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What is acupressure?

Acupressure is a form of touch therapy that utilizes the principles of acupuncture and Chinese medicine. In acupressure, the same points on the body are used as in acupuncture, but are stimulated with finger pressure instead of with the insertion of needles. Acupressure isused to relieve a variety of symptoms and pain.




Acupressure massage performed by a therapist can be very effective both as
prevention and as a treatment for many health conditions, including headaches,
general aches and pains, colds and flu, arthritis, allergies, asthma, nervous tension,
menstrual cramps, sinus problems, sprains, tennis elbow, and toothaches, among

Acupressure techniques are fairly easy to learn, and have been used to provide quick,
and effective relief from many symptoms. Acupressure points can also be stimulated
to increase energy and feelings of well-being, reduce stress, stimulate the immune
system, and alleviate sexual dysfunctions.


One of the oldest text of Chinese medicine is the Huang Di, The Yellow Emperor's
Classic of Internal Medicine, which may be at least 2,000 years old. Chinese
medicine has developed acupuncture, acupressure, herbal remedies, diet, exercise,
lifestyle changes, and other remedies as part of its healing methods. Nearly all of the
forms of Oriental medicine that are used in the West today, including acupuncture,
acupressure, shiatsu, and Chinese herbal medicine, have their roots in Chinese

One legend has it that acupuncture and acupressure evolved as early Chinese healers
studied the puncture wounds of Chinese warriors, noting that certain points on the
body created interesting results when stimulated. The oldest known text specifically
on acupuncture points, the Systematic Classic of Acupuncture, dates back to 282 A.D.

Acupressure is the non-invasive form of acupuncture, as Chinese physicians
determined that stimulating points on the body with massage and pressure could be
effective for treating certain problems.

Chinese medicine remained virtually unknown in the West until the 1970s, when
Richard Nixon became the first U.S. president to visit China. On Nixon's trip,
journalists were amazed to observe major operations being performed on patients
without the use of anesthetics. Instead, wide-awake patients were being operated on,
with only acupuncture needles inserted into them to control pain. At that time, a
famous columnist for the New York Times, James Reston, had to undergo surgery and
elected to use acupuncture for anesthesia. Later, he wrote some convincing stories on
its effectiveness. Despite being neglected by mainstream medicine and the American
Medical Association (AMA), acupuncture and Chinese medicine became a central to
alternative medicine practitioners in the United States. Today, there are millions of
patients who attest to its effectiveness, and nearly 9,000 practitioners alone in the

Acupressure and Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine views the body as a small part of the universe, subject to laws and
principles of harmony and balance. Chinese medicine does not make as sharp a
destinction as Western medicine does between mind and body. The Chinese system
believes that emotions and mental states are every bit as influential on disease as
purely physical mechanisms, and considers factors like work, environment, and
relationships as fundamental to a patient's health. Chinese medicine also uses very
different symbols and ideas to discuss the body and health. While Western medicine
typically describes health as mainly physical processes composed of chemical
equations and reactions, the Chinese use ideas like chi and the organ system to
describe health and the body.








Chi (pronounced chee, also spelled qi or ki in Japanese shiatsu) is the fundamental life energy. It is found in food, air, water, and sunlight, and it travels through the body in channels called meridians. There are 12 major meridians in the body that transport chi, corresponding to the 12 main organs categorized by Chinese medicine.


Key terms

Acupoint — A pressure point stimulated in acupressure.
Chi — Basic life energy.
Meridian — A channel through which chi travels in the body.
Moxibustion — An acupuncture technique that burns the herb moxa or mugwort.
Shiatsu — Japanese form of acupressure massage.


Disease is viewed as an imbalance of the organs and chi in the body. Chinese
medicine has developed intricate systems of how organs are related to physical and
mental symptoms, and it has devised corresponding treatments using the meridian
and pressure point networks that are classified and numbered. The goal of
acupressure, and acupuncture, is to stimulate and unblock the circulation of chi, by
activating very specific points, called pressure points or acupoints. Acupressure seeks
to stimulate the points on the chi meridians that pass close to the skin, as these are
easiest to unblock and manipulate with finger pressure.

Acupressure can be used as part of a Chinese physician's prescription, as a session of
massage therapy, or as a self-treatment for common aches and illnesses. A Chinese
medicine practitioner examines a patient very thoroughly, looking at physical, mental
and emotional activity, taking the pulse usually at the wrists, examining the tongue
and complexion, and observing the patient's demeanor and attitude, to get a complete
diagnosis of which organs and meridian points are out of balance. When the
imbalance is located, the physician will recommend specific pressure points for
acupuncture or acupressure. If acupressure is recommended, the patient might opt for
a series of treatments from a therapist.

In massage therapy, acupressurists will evaluate a patient's symptoms and overall
health. In a massage therapy treatment, a person usually lies down on a table or mat,
with thin clothing on. The acupressurist will gently feel and palpate the abdomen and
other parts of the body to determine energy imbalances. Then, the therapist will work
with different meridians throughout the body, depending on which organs are
imbalanced in the abdomen. The therapist will use different types of finger
movements and pressure on different acupoints, depending on whether the chi needs
to be increased or dispersed at different points. The therapist observes and guides the
energy flow through the patient's body throughout the session. Sometimes, special
herbs (Artemesia vulgaris or moxa) may be placed on a point to warm it, a process
called moxibustion.








A session of acupressure is generally a very pleasant experience, and some people

experience great benefit immediately. For more chronic conditions, several sessions
may be necessary to relieve and improve conditions.


Acupressure is easy to learn. It is also very versatile, as it can be done anywhere, and
it's a good form of treatment for spouses and partners to give to each other and for
parents to perform on children for minor conditions.

While giving self-treatment or performing acupressure on another, a mental attitude
of calmness and attention is important, as one person's energy can be used to help
another's. Loose, thin clothing is recommended. There are three general techniques
for stimulating apressure point.

• Tonifying is meant to strengthen weak chi, and is
done by pressing the thumb or finger into an acupoint
with a firm, steady pressure, holding it for up to two
• Dispersing is meant to move stagnant or blocked chi,
and the finger or thumb is moved in a circular motion
or slightly in and out of the point for two minutes.
• Calming the chi in a pressure point utilizes the palm
to cover the point and gently stroke the area for about
two minutes.


Research and general acceptance

In general, Chinese medicine has been slow to gain acceptance in the West, mainly
because it rests on ideas very foreign to the scientific model. For instance, Western
scientists have trouble with the idea of chi, the invisible energy of the body, and the
idea that pressing on certain points can alleviate certain conditions seems sometimes
too simple for scientists to believe. But this idea is wellknown in other cultures to;
e.g. Avicenna (Ibn Sina) explained the idea of chi in his al Qanoon fi't-Tibb and
called it al-quwwa al muddabirra.

Western scientists, in trying to account for the action of acupressure, have theorized
that chi is actually part of the neuroendocrine system of the body.

Celebrated orthopedic surgeon Robert O. Becker, who was twice nominated for the
Nobel Prize, wrote a book on the subject called Cross Currents: The Promise of
Electromedicine; The Perils of Electropollution.

By using precise electrical measuring devices, Becker and his colleagues showed that
the body has a complex web of electromagnetic energy, and that traditional
acupressure meridians and points contained amounts of energy that non-acupressure
points did not.



Massage Therapy Journal. 820 Davis Street, Suite100, Evanston, IL 60201-4444.
American Association of Oriental Medicine. December 28, 2000.
National Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Alliance. December 28,

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