Acupressure is said to help with a range of conditions, from motion sickness to headache to muscle pain. TCM practitioners say acupressure benefits are achieved by using pressure points along the energy pathways in the body, to encourage the free flow of energy, or qi.
This article explains the procedure of acupressure massage and how pressure points are used. It discusses the safety and side effects of acupressure, as well as research on acupressure benefits.
Acupressure is thought to treat blocked energy, although it remains uncertain exactly what acupressure does. Some think the pressure may cause the release of endorphins. These are natural pain-relieving chemicals in the body.
Others think the pressure may influence the autonomic nervous system. This is the part of the nervous system that controls involuntary things like your heart, digestion, and breathing.
According to the principles of TCM, invisible pathways of energy called meridians flow within the body. At least 14 meridians are thought to connect the organs with other parts of the body.1 If qi is blocked at any point on a meridian, it's thought to cause health problems along that pathway.2
A practitioner applies pressure to specific acupressure points to restore healthy energy flow. The points they choose depend on your symptoms.
Given how meridians run, pressure points used may be distant from the site of the symptom. For example, an acupressure point on the foot may be used to relieve a headache.
There are 361 pressure points on 14 meridians. The points are the same as those used in acupuncture.3
For example, the pressure point Neiguan (P-6) is primarily used to treat nausea and vomiting. To find it, turn your hand palm up.4 Place your thumb at the center of where the hand meets the wrist. Move your thumb two finger-widths toward the elbow. The point is between two large tendons, which you should be able to feel as you apply pressure.
A few other commonly used pressure points include:
Most people try acupressure to manage a condition, such as:
Some studies suggest a benefit from auricular (ear) acupuncture in treating cancer-related fatigue, which is common among people receiving chemotherapy.9
Few studies have looked at the effectiveness of acupressure, but there is some evidence that suggests it may help.
In a 2017 study, researchers looked at the effects of acupressure on pain and anxiety. Subjects were athletes with a sports injury. On the day of the injury, researchers treated the subjects with one of the following or gave them no acupressure at all:
The study concluded that acupressure reduced pain compared to the sham treatment or no acupressure. There was no change in anxiety.10
A 2017 review analyzed the results of three trials in chemotherapy patients. Researchers found that acupressure performed with fingers or an acupressure wristband decreased nausea, vomiting, and retching.11
While these are promising results, another 2017 review of 22 clinical trials on acupuncture or acupressure for the induction of labor found no clear benefit.12
Acupressure is often done by an acupuncturist. Depending on what points they need to access, you may sit or lie on a massage table during the session.
You can also do acupressure on yourself. It is best to learn proper technique from an acupuncturist.
In general, though, you apply pressure to a specific point using a thumb, finger, or knuckle. You can also use the tip of a pen. The pressure should be gentle but firm.
Increase the pressure for about 30 seconds. Then hold it steady for 30 seconds to two minutes. Next, gradually decrease the pressure for 30 seconds. Repeat three to five times.
Acupressure should never be painful. If you feel any pain, tell your therapist at once.
Some people may feel sore or have bruises at acupressure points after a session. You may also feel lightheaded for a while.
Pressure should be gentle over sensitive areas, such as the face.
If you're pregnant, talk to your care provider before trying acupressure. During pregnancy, acupressure isn't usually done on:
.Acupressure should never be done over any of these areas:
If you have any of these conditions, talk to your healthcare provider before trying acupressure.
Acupressure is a traditional Chinese medicine therapy in which pressure is applied to a specific point on the body. It is done to free up energy blockages said to cause health concerns from insomnia to menstrual cramps.
There isn't much research into the effects of acupressure. However, some studies do suggest it might help treat pain and nausea.
Acupressure can be done by an acupuncturist, though you can also try doing it yourself (with proper instruction). Ask your healthcare provider for a green light to try it if you are pregnant or are managing a health condition.
1.Zhang WB, Wang GJ, Fuxe K. Classic and modern meridian studies: a review of low hydraulic resistance channels along meridians and their relevance for therapeutic effects in traditional Chinese medicine. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:410979. doi:10.1155/2015/410979
2.Mehta P, Dhapte V, Kadam S, Dhapte V. Contemporary acupressure therapy: adroit cure for painless recovery of therapeutic ailments. J Tradit Complement Med. 2017;7(2):251-263. doi:10.1016/j.jtcme.2016.06.004
3.Kim J, Kang DI. Positioning standardized acupuncture points on the whole body based on x-ray computed tomography images. Med Acupunct. 2014;26(1):40-49. doi:10.1089/acu.2013.1002
4.Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Acupressure for nausea and vomiting.
5.Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Acupressure for Pain and Headaches.
6.Ho KK, Kwok AW, Chau WW, Xia SM, Wang YL, Cheng JC. A randomized controlled trial on the effect of focal thermal therapy at acupressure points treating osteoarthritis of the knee. J Orthop Surg Res. 2021 Apr 27;16(1):282. doi:10.1186/s13018-021-02398-2.
7.Movahedi M, Ghafari S, Nazari F, Valiani M. The effects of acupressure on pain severity in female nurses with chronic low back pain. Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res. 2017;22(5):339-342. doi:10.4103%2Fijnmr.IJNMR_108_16
8.Tan JY, Molassiotis A, Suen LKP, Liu J, Wang T, Huang HR. Effects of auricular acupressure on chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in breast cancer patients: a preliminary randomized controlled trial. BMC Complement Med Ther. 2022 Mar 24;22(1):87. doi:10.1186/s12906-022-03543-y.
9.Lin L, Zhang Y, Qian HY, Xu JL, Xie CY, Dong B, et al. Auricular acupressure for cancer-related fatigue during lung cancer chemotherapy: a randomised trial. BMJ Support Palliat Care. 2021 Mar;11(1):32-39. doi:10.1136/bmjspcare-2019-001937.
10.Mącznik AK, Schneiders AG, Athens J, Sullivan SJ. Does acupressure hit the mark? A three-arm randomized placebo-controlled trial of acupressure for pain and anxiety relief in athletes with acute musculoskeletal sports injuries. Clin J Sport Med. 2017;27(4):338-343. doi:10.1097/JSM.0000000000000378
11.Greenlee H, Dupont-reyes MJ, Balneaves LG, et al. Clinical practice guidelines on the evidence-based use of integrative therapies during and after breast cancer treatment. CA Cancer J Clin. 2017;67(3):194-232. doi:10.3322/caac.21397
12.Smith CA, Armour M, Dahlen HG. Acupuncture or acupressure for induction of labour. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017;10:CD002962. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD002962.pub4