The body is an amazing machine. It allows us to accomplish incredible physical endeavors, rejoice in a myriad of experiences – to love and learn and grow. It also has the power to heal itself – perhaps one of it’s most amazing feats.
Natural and holistic medical systems help us to harness and support the body’s natural healing abilities. One of the most gentle, yet effective therapies we can use is acupressure.
Acupressure is often used in conjunction with massage techniques, like shiatsu, or with acupuncture therapy sessions. But acupressure offers us a lot, even on its own. The beauty of acupressure is that in addition to seeking out a professional session, it can also be learned as a self-care therapy to practice at home.
Let’s learn more about acupressure, and it’s benefits – and how you can make the most of the practice in and out of the treatment room.
What is Acupressure
Acupressure is an ancient therapeutic technique dating back over 5000 years. It is part of the larger, more comprehensive Chinese medical system and can be used either alone or with other therapies. While acupuncture is a more popularized treatment, acupressure offers many of the same benefits.
Acupressure involves very precise, specialized pressure on precise areas of the body called acu-points. These acu-points are the same as the points used in acupuncture therapy. Acupressure uses finger pressure to stimulate these points, in contrast to acupuncture which employs a needle.
Acupressure is a safe and holistic modality that can be used by nearly anyone. You can seek out acupressure treatment from a qualified individual such as an acupuncturist or shiatsu therapist, or even perform the technique on yourself or loved ones.
What is Chinese Medicine
Acupressure works within the framework of Chinese medicine. In this medical system, the body is viewed holistically, where no part can be separated from the whole. Health is achieved when we are in balance, and chronic imbalances eventually lead to illness and disease.
Chinese medicine also sees the world in complementary forces (yin and yang) that act together in harmony. Each aspect of the body can be broken down into these yin and yang components. When yin and yang are in balance, we are healthy. When they are out of balance, disruptions and illness can result.
One of the first places we notice imbalances is in the acupuncture channels. The channels (also called meridians) lie relatively superficial to the body and mimic the paths of the blood vessels and nerves. These channels, however, do not carry blood or nerve impulses but an activating force we call qi. While qi is hard to define in our Western and biomedical world, it is often likened to energy or even oxygen. When using acupressure, we are intervening with the flow of qi to set it on the right path.
A body out of balance will eventually develop an issue with the flow of Qi. It might be a build up in one area, suffer from a lack of flow in another, or perhaps the flow will go the opposite way it should. Acupressure, like acupuncture, works to re-establish a smooth and appropriate flow of qi through the body.
How Does Acupressure Work
In addition to improving and regulating the body’s flow of qi, acupressure can also release tight muscles, tension, or promote general relaxation. Similar to acupuncture, acupressure targets very specific points on the body to help restore balance. This activates certain neural responses and can trigger the release of endorphins (the feel-good neurotransmitters). In turn, this relieves pain, reduces inflammation, and relaxes the muscles.
When working with non-pain related issues, like sinus congestion or anxiety, acupressure is addressing the root issues as well as the symptoms of the condition. For example, certain acupressure points can be stimulated directly to unblock local sinus pressure, while others may be stimulated to boost the whole body’s immune system and relieve the allergic response.
Benefits of Acupressure
Acupressure has the ability to not only promote general wellness and prevent disease but can also be used strategically to relieve current symptoms or health issues. Listed below are some of the most common issues that benefit from acupressure, and some tricks for using acupressure at home.
Headaches are a complicated issue that can stem from a wide range of issues. Acupressure provides some handy tricks to help soothe headaches and even prevent them from returning.
Tension headaches are the most common and can be triggered by stress, overexertion, or too much screen-time. A great acupressure point for this type of headache is called Taiyang.
Taiyang is located just at the temples, where you feel a slightly softer area. Apply perpendicular pressure with one or two fingertips to this area for 5-10 seconds while practicing deep breathing. Release for a few seconds, then repeat several times.
Sinus Congestion | Allergies
If you suffer from sinus congestion and/or allergies, having a few acupressure points up your sleeve can help you relieve some of your symptoms and get on with your day. Chronic sinus infections or recurrent allergies likely require acupuncture, herbal, or dietary recommendations, but there are some great acupressure points we can use at home.
Bitong is an obvious choice for sinus congestion. It lies just to the side of the nostrils. If you are currently suffering from congestion, you will likely feel pressure here. Press down on Bitong firmly (but not so much it causes pain) and hold for 3-5 seconds. Repeat several times. You may also press from the base of the nostrils, at acu-point Large Intestine 20, upwards towards Bitong.
Issues with menstruation can often be improved with Chinese medicine. Acupuncture and herbal medicines are great at helping the female reproductive system return to balance. Acupressure is a great tool to have at home for particularly crampy cycles.
The acu-points Spleen 8 and 9 are easy to use and help to relieve cramping and pain. Find both points on the inner leg, close to the knee. Spleen 9 is located in the depression below the medial epicondyle of the tibia, and Spleen 8 is located about one handbreadth below Spleen 9. It is helpful to press along these areas to find the regions that are the most tender to the touch, checking both legs to see which side is most active. Apply gentle finger pressure to the most tender of those areas for 10 seconds or so. Release, then repeat several times for 5-10 minutes.
We all experience worry at some point in our lives, but for some of us, anxiety is a debilitating aspect of daily life. Fortunately, there are many natural resources to help us overcome anxiety like meditation, acupuncture, diet changes, and exercise. Acupressure can also be a helpful routine to use at home to not only help reduce anxiety in the moment but reduce the frequency and intensity over time.
One amazing acupressure point for anxiety is Kidney 1. This point helps to draw excessive energy down from the head and smooth the flow of qi and blood throughout the entire body. The Kidney channel has a special ability to calm the mind and relieve any feelings of anxiety, worry, fear, and ruminations.
Kidney 1 is located on the sole of the foot, grounding us to the earth. Find it about 1/3 of the way down from the base of the toes to the heel, right in the middle of the arch. Apply deep, yet comfortable pressure to Kidney 1 on both feet. You can press down into the sole, apply a round-rubbing technique, or choose whatever kind of pressure you prefer.
Consider making it a daily practice to stimulate this point for a few minutes before bed for restful sleep. This is particularly helpful if anxious thoughts keep you up at night. Alternatively, stimulate this point first thing in the morning to set you off on a calm and mindful day.
Whether you suffer from chronic fatigue or are just searching for a little pick-me-up trick for that 2 o’clock slump, acupressure provides a simple, useful resource. There are tons of acupressure points that can help fight fatigue: pressing around the eye sockets, between the eyebrows at acu-point Yintang, between the thumb and fore-finger at acu-point Large Intestine 4, and many others.
One amazing point for chronic fatigue is called Stomach 36. This is a widely used and loved acu-point. It is known for boosting stamina, energy, and improving the overall flow of blood, qi, and fluids. Stimulate this point for a shot of energy, or make it a daily habit to improve your overall vitality and health.
Stomach 36 is found just below the knee, on the outer leg. It is one handbreadth down from the bottom of the knee-cap, just to the outer edge of the tibia bone. Search around this area for a tender spot, then press perpendicularly or round-rub the point for 10 seconds. Repeat 5-10 times, or for several minutes.
What to Expect at an Acupressure Visit
An acupressure visit is a bit similar to a massage or acupuncture visit. The practitioner will discuss your health concerns with you and address any questions you may have. You will then lie comfortably on a table, and the practitioner will strategically select the points to stimulate to help relieve your current issues. The session should be a calming, relaxing experience.
When Should Acupressure Be Avoided?
Acupressure is a safe and natural way to help improve our health. There are, however, a few instances when it is best to seek out a professional practitioner for a knowledgeable and safe treatment. This includes pregnancy, cancer, and cardiovascular conditions. Acupressure should be avoided in cases of broken bones, open skin wounds, or infectious skin conditions.
Boost Your Health With Acupressure
Acupressure offers a non-invasive, comfortable, and approachable way to improve your health on a daily basis. Including acupressure into your daily routine (or seeking out care from a trained practitioner) can help you achieve your health goals faster, reduce symptoms, and promote general wellness. Contact our office at 773.878.7330 to learn more about acupressure and to see if acupressure is right for you.