Consider Acupressure ForClinical studies of this traditional Chinese therapy have yielded encouraging--though not conclusive--results in the treatment of post-surgical nausea and vomiting, including nausea after Cesarean section. The technique also shows promise for relief of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy ("morning sickness") and for prevention of motion sickness. Pressure at a special point on the inside of the wrist, from either the fingers or a small elastic band, has been shown to relieve nausea better than "sham" acupressure delivered elsewhere. Some doctors also regard acupressure as a reasonably effective remedy for headache pain, using points on the hands and feet as well as the neck. And there is general agreement that the technique can relieve muscle and joint aches and pains, promote deep relaxation and relief of tension, and improve general vitality.
On the other hand, although both acupressure and acupuncture have been proposed as weight-loss aids, neither has been found effective during clinical trials. Likewise, the contention that acupressure strengthens disease resistance has not been confirmed by any scientific evidence of improved immune function. Reports that the technique can ease breathing for patients with chronic obstructive lung disease also seem premature.
Often called "acupuncture without needles" acupressure seeks to remedy illness through the application of deep finger pressure at points located along an invisible system of energy channels called meridians. Shiatsu is the Japanese version of acupressure. Tuina is a Chinese variation that involves more massage-like kneading motions.
How Acupressure Treatments Are Done
Acupressure may be performed on a floor mat or massage table, and the person receiving the treatment usually wears light, loose clothing. Practitioners may administer pressure to various points using elbows and feet as well as thumbs and fingertips.
Treatment Time: A typical session lasts 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Treatment Frequency: Although Westerners typically seek out acupressure for a particular complaint, such as a stiff neck or aching back, traditional Oriental medicine views this therapy as a way to maintain health and keep vital energy in balance. For this purpose, acupressure may be administered on a regular basis; and pressure on many points can be self-administered as often as desired for relief of minor daily problems such as headache, tired eyes, and nervous tension.
According to the principals of traditional Oriental medicine, the body's vital energy (called ch'i or qi in Chinese and ki in Japanese) flows along 14 meridians that connect vital organs throughout the body. Over the several thousand years that this system has been in use, Oriental physicians have mapped hundreds of sensitive "acupoints" along these meridians. A blockage in the flow of ch'i at one point on a meridian can, it's believed, cause disease and discomfort in an organ or tissue further down the line. Hence, an acupressurist may seek to relieve a problem in the head by using deep massage to break up a blockage of ch'i in the foot.
What Acupressure Treatment Hopes to Accomplish
Western medical science has found no evidence that meridians exist, although some acupoints have been shown to coincide with nerve trigger points. However, as with any massage, acupressure can definitely be relaxing (although it may cause some transient discomfort in sensitive or tense areas). Some researchers also theorize that acupressure, like acupuncture, may work by prompting the body to release natural pain-killing compounds such as endorphins.
Although treatments are administered in a slow, steady manner, they can involve very forceful pressure, and thus may not be a prudent choice for a person with brittle bones (osteoporosis) or a history of spinal or other orthopedic injury or easy bruising. They should also be avoided if you have a bleeding disorder, take anticoagulant drugs, or are undergoing long-term steroid therapy, which can make the tissues fragile.
Who Should Avoid Acupressure?
Acupressure is traditionally recommended to ease discomforts of pregnancy and childbirth. However, as with any treatment during pregnancy, it's best to consult a doctor first, and to avoid any pressure near the abdominal area.
Acupressure in the legs and feet could prove damaging if you have circulation problems resulting from diabetes or varicose veins. It could also aggravate carpal tunnel syndrome, which is, at the outset, a result of pressure on a nerve. Caution should also be used near fragile or irritated skin, sores, and wounds.
After an acupressure session, some people report feeling light-headed or slightly groggy for a while. Lasting soreness is also a possibility. Usually attributed to "released energy" or "released toxins," it is more often the result of trauma to soft tissue or tendons that may already be inflamed. If treatments are painful, or result in extended discomfort, be sure to let the therapist know.
What Side Effects May Occur?
Acupressure is administered by a wide variety of practitioners under many styles and guises. Elements of the technique are found in many types of bodywork and massage therapy. Some practitioners hew to a traditional Oriental style of practice, sometimes combined with other components of traditional Oriental medicine such as herbology. Other, more Westernized practitioners dismiss the philosophical angle and regard the meridians as a system of neurological trigger points.
How to Choose an Acupressurist
There is currently no widely accepted, standard credentialing agency for acupressure. The National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncturists and Oriental Medicine has recently begun a certification program for practitioners of "Oriental bodywork therapy," including acupressure and Shiatsu, but fewer than 100 practitioners have applied for and received certification thus far.
If you regard acupressure as a way of toning the body and tuning up your general health and well-being, then "treatment" is more like preventive maintenance, and may be continued indefinitely. For acute problems, several weeks of therapy is a reasonable time in which to expect some relief.
When Should Treatment Stop?
Acupressure alone is not considered an effective form of therapy for any major or life-threatening ailments, although it can certainly be used to complement conventional Western medical regimens as a means of relieving tension and stress. If you have any symptoms that could signal an acute medical problem (such as chest pain) or symptoms that become worse (such as a headache that is unusually severe or won't go away), consult a physician.
See a Conventional Doctor If...
1533 Shattuck Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94709
This organization, which provides training in various styles of acupressure, also offers the public general information and a mail-order catalog of publications.
National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncturists and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM)
1424 16th St., N.W., Suite 501
Washington, DC 20036