Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a holistic combination of herbalism, diet, lifestyle practices, and manipulation of parts of the body through techniques of acupuncture or acupressure.
Acupressure is becoming more and more popular in mainstream Western culture as an alternative therapy. Acupressure treatments are also slowly gaining the interest of the medical community for their patients.
After taking a brief look at the history of acupressure, we will discuss the beliefs behind how it works and the benefits that it can provide for your health.
We’ll also provide a useful summary of what to expect during both acupuncture and acupressure, so that you can work out which one will work best for you!
The Origins of Acupressure
Acupressure is often considered to be a gentler form of acupuncture, although acupressure probably predates acupuncture by about 2500 years.
It is clear that the Chinese used bones and stones sharpened into superfine points for some kind of therapeutic procedure 6000 years BCE.
Archaeological evidence shows that both acupuncture and acupressure were practiced in 2000 years BCE. By the medieval period, both practices were widespread in China.
For evidence in books, acupressure (also known as tuina massage) was described in the Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine from around 100 BCE.
Both acupuncture and acupressure involve stimulating the “qi” (the body’s life force or energy).
The belief behind this is that by improving the flow of energy throughout the human body, a variety of illnesses or conditions can be cured.
How Does Acupressure Work?
Acupressure is the application of pressure to areas of the human body known as pressure points. These pressure points are mostly in the upper body and the limbs.
Acupressure is thought to stimulate the flow of energy along meridians (energy pathways in the body). When these meridian lines are blocked, it can result in sickness and various ailments.
As well as targeting pressure points, the therapist can also apply pressure to trigger points (where the energy flow is connected to another area of the body).
An experienced, skilled therapist will understand which pressure points relate to the 14 main meridians.
Acupressure is thought to stimulate the circulatory, lymphatic, and hormonal systems of the body, as well as help the body’s natural immunity. It will also help to increase blood flow and circulation.
The acupressure points are at the nerve endings of the meridians, which ease muscle tension when activated. Acupressure massage may also work by having an effect on the autonomic nervous system that controls heart function, and the digestive and respiratory systems.
In addition, it’s thought to encourage the body to release endorphins, which subsequently reduce pain.
Brain scans have shown that acupressure has the ability to slow or block pain messages from reaching the brain. While doing so, it simultaneously encourages the release of endorphins and serotonin (the feel good hormones).
What are the Benefits of Acupressure?
Acupressure has many benefits, especially in relieving pain, stress, and allergies. It is even effective on difficult to treat conditions such as insomnia, aching joints, headaches, psychological conditions, digestive system issues, and autoimmune disorders.
There is also emerging evidence that acupressure helps with weight management.
Acupressure is non-invasive in that it does not involve acupuncture needles or pharmaceuticals. This makes it ideal for people on anticoagulants- as well as those with a dislike of needles. Most of all, it is an enjoyable, relaxing, and natural type of therapy.
You can apply acupressure massage to yourself quite easily.
There will be times when you cannot get to a practitioner (such as on the weekend, or when you feel a headache coming on just before giving a public speech, for example!).
Acupressure can be carried out in these instances relatively quickly- and you don’t even need to undress.
There are many resources and websites (such as our own) with photos of the pressure points or areas of the body, and the conditions that they relate to.
There is generally a wide choice of pressure points and techniques to choose from for each particular ailment too.
Many of these pressure points are on the hands or face, so access typically isn’t an issue. However, it can still be better to see a qualified therapist, as some skill is still required to find certain points.
Acupressure is not a substitute for conventional medical treatment, and it requires specialist skills if used while pregnant. Yes, you can use acupressure to induce labor and relieve labor pains.
Keep in mind that it also doesn’t work for serious causes of nausea caused by general anesthetics or chemotherapy. It's always best to talk to your doctors if you have any existing conditions to see if acupressure is safe for you.
Acupressure vs Acupuncture Differences
Both acupressure and acupuncture are underpinned by the belief that the qi is the body’s life energy, and that it can be manipulated to improve health.
In acupuncture, the therapist applies thin needles to the pressure points for 20 - 30 minutes.
The therapist will ask holistic questions about your general health, mental health, digestive system, and examine your tongue and eyes. This helps them to figure out which pathways need attention.
The needles are placed at points designed either to stimulate or to calm.
Acupuncture often uses pressure points on the hands and lower limbs, sometimes in tandem with other Chinese or modern therapies.
The therapist needs to be licensed, and this makes it a more expensive procedure than acupressure.
Because the therapist inserts needles in the pressure points, they can work on many of these at the same time.
It is also thought to be stronger than acupressure because the needles penetrate the skin.
By contrast, with acupressure, the therapist simply applies pressure to the pressure points or the trigger points.
This pressure is typically applied using the thumb or two fingers for approximately 5 seconds. The patient is encouraged to take deep breaths while this occurs.
Finally, the therapist then massages the area in a circular motion for 2 minutes. The process is repeated about five times at each point, for the most effective acupressure treatment!
Acupressure History Final Thoughts
All in all, there are many benefits to acupressure for pain management, especially with balancing the energy in the body and improved blood circulation.
Acupressure treatment offers relief for many pain points. Here are some of our most popular articles to check out:
- Acupressure for Back Pain
- Acupressure for Neck Pain
- Acupressure for Headaches
- Acupressure for Anxiety and Stress
-  K. C. Huang, Acupuncture: The Past and the Present (New York: Vantage, 1996); K. W. Ma, “The Roots and Development of Chinese Acupuncture: From Prehistory to the Early Twentieth Century,” Acupuncture Medicine 10 (1992): 92–9.
-  R. Melzak and P. Wall, “Pain Mechanism: A New Theory,” Sciences 150 (1965):971–979; B. Pan, J. M. Castro-Lopes, and A. Coimbra, “Activation of Anterior Lobe Corticotrophs by Electro-Acupuncture or Noxious Stimulation in the Anaesthetized Rat, as shown by Co-localization of Fos Protein with ACTH and Beta-Endorphin and Increased Hormone Release,” Brain Research Bulletin 40 (1996):175–182; K. Yoshimoto, F. Fukuda, and M. Hori, “Acupuncture Stimulates the Release of Serotonin, but not Dopamine in the Rat Nucleus Accumbens,” Tohoku Journal of Experimental Medicine 208 (2006):321–326.
-  V. Torres, A. M. Castro Sanchez, G.A. Mataran Penarocha, “Benefits of Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Acupressure Therapy in Obese Patients: A Randomized Clinical Trial,” Nutricion Hospitalia 26 (2011):1018–1024.