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Acupressure for Pain Relief

The Secret to Healing Is in Your Hands
  -- By Liza Barnes, Registered Nurse & Health Educator
Acupressure is a 5,000-year-old Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) therapy involving the placement of physical pressure (using fingertips or other devices) on specific locations on the body.  The goal is to bring relief of problematic symptoms by balancing and circulating body energy, or chi.   According to TCM, chi flows along balanced pathways in the body called meridians, and when this balance is disrupted, disease can result.  Acupressure aims to restore health by restoring balance to these systems. These pressure points and meridian systems are the same systems used for acupuncture, a TCM technique that relies on the insertion of needles into these locations to bring healing. 
 
If you think this doesn’t sound very scientific, you’re not alone.  Most western doctors dispute the idea of chi and meridians in the body and believe that any positive effects of acupressure (when noted) are not related to the balancing of chi, but to the other physical benefits of things like massage (increased circulation, relaxation and even placebo effects). Acupressure has quite a few skeptics.  Indeed, TCM’s acupressure theory was devised before the creation of the modern scientific method, and there is no known anatomical basis for the existence of acupuncture points or meridians.  Yet some studies do show that it works.
 
In a study published in 2005 in the Canadian Journal of Anaesthesia, researchers reported that acupressure increased the tolerance to motion in participants with a history of motion sickness.  In a February 2007 issue of the Journal of Clinical Nursing, it was reported that acupressure sessions given regularly to patients with dementia resulted in decreases in wandering and a reduction in verbal and physical aggression.  And the results of another study in the Journal of Cardiopulminary Rehabilitation suggest that acupressure helped relieve shortness of breath and other symptoms associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  Besides these scientific studies, there are thousands of people who swear by acupuncture’s effectiveness.  Or you could just try it yourself to see if it works.
 
Acupressure therapy is commonly used to relieve pain (everything from headache to backaches to fibromyalgia), reduce tension in muscles, improve circulation and promote deep states of relaxation. Acupressure techniques are often used by massage therapists and other practitioners of "bodywork," but many are simple enough that you can learn them and try them yourself.
 
Here are some common pain symptoms and the acupressure points used to relieve them:
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Toothache, vertigo, hip soreness
Use Acupoint #4, located in the depression behind your outer ankle bone
 
General backache
Use Acupoint #9, between the two ligaments on the back of your knee, on the crease
 
Insomnia
Use Acupoint #13, located one palm width below your navel
 
Shoulder pain
Use Acupoint #14, on the crease of the inside of your elbow on the thumb side when your palm is facing upward.
 
Headaches at the base of the skull
Use Acupoint #16, located between the two most prominent bones at the top of your spine
 
General headache
Use Acupoint #26, on the side of the nostril, where people commonly have a nose piercing
 
To try acupressure, first find a quiet and peaceful place to relax.  Apply deep pressure to the point with either a finger tip, a knuckle, or a pencil eraser for 15 to 30 seconds, and then repeat on the other side of the body.  There are over 30 different acupressure points on the body, and finding the exact location of each one takes practice and persistence.  You’ll know you found the correct location when you feel a sharp twinge, followed by a tingling sensation.  Many practitioners of acupressure say that, when done correctly, you will feel immediate relief from your symptoms. A free, at-home treatment that provides relief like that might be worth a shot!
 
Acupressure is generally considered safe, although people with cancer, arthritis, heart disease, varicose veins and pregnant women should talk with their doctor before trying acupressure at home or at any other facility. For optimal safety and effectiveness, ensure that your acupressure practitioner is licensed and certified.
 
 
If you are having severe or persistent symptoms, call your doctor.  Only use acupressure as a supplement to professional medical care, not as a substitute for it.
 
Sources
WebMD. "Acupressure Points and Massage Treatment." Accessed February 13, 2013. http://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/acupressure-points-and-massage-treatment.

Weil, Andrew, M.D. “Wellness Therapies: Acupressure.” Accessed February 13, 2013. http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART03230/Acupressure.html.