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Acupressure is an alternative medicine technique similar in principle to acupuncture. It is based on the concept of life energy which flows through “meridians” in the body. In treatment, physical pressure is applied to acupuncture points with the aim of clearing blockages in these meridians. Pressure may be applied by hand, by elbow, or with various devices.
Some medical studies have suggested that acupressure may be effective at helping manage nausea and vomiting, for helping lower back pain, tension headaches, stomach ache, among other things, although such studies have been found to have a high likelihood of bias. Like many alternative medicines, it may benefit from a placebo effect.
Acupoints used in treatment may or may not be in the same area of the body as the targeted symptom. The traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) theory for the selection of such points and their effectiveness is that they work by stimulating the meridian system to bring about relief by rebalancing yin, yang and qi (also spelled “chi”).
Many East Asian martial arts also make extensive study and use of acupressure for self-defense and health purposes, (chin na, tui na). The points or combinations of points are said to be used to manipulate or incapacitate an opponent. Also, martial artists regularly massage their own acupressure points in routines to remove supposed blockages from their own meridians, claiming to thereby enhance their circulation and flexibility and keeping the points “soft” or less vulnerable to an attack.
A 2011 systematic review of acupressure’s effectiveness at treating symptoms found that 35 out of 43 randomized controlled trials had concluded that acupressure was effective at treating certain symptoms; however, the nature of these 43 studies “indicated a significant likelihood of bias.” The authors of this systematic review concluded that this “review of clinical trials from the past decade did not provide rigorous support for the efficacy of acupressure for symptom management. Well-designed, randomized controlled studies are needed to determine the utility and efficacy of acupressure to manage a variety of symptoms in a number of patient populations.”
A 2011 Cochrane review of four trials using acupuncture and nine studies using acupressure to control pain in childbirth concluded that “acupuncture or acupressure may help relieve pain during labour, but more research is needed”. Another Cochrane Collaboration review found that massage provided some long-term benefit for low back pain, and stated: It seems that acupressure or pressure point massage techniques provide more relief than classic (Swedish) massage, although more research is needed to confirm this.
Quackwatch includes acupressure in a list of methods which have no “rational place” as massage therapy and states that practitioners “may also use irrational diagnostic methods to reach diagnoses that do not correspond to scientific concepts of health and disease.”
P6 acupuncture point
An acupressure wristband that is claimed to relieve the symptoms of motion sickness and other forms of nausea provides pressure to the P6 acupuncture point, a point that has been extensively investigated. The Cochrane Collaboration reviewed the use of P6 for nausea and vomiting, and found it to be effective for reducing post-operative nausea, but not vomiting. The Cochrane review included various means of stimulating P6, including acupuncture, electro-acupuncture, transcutaneous nerve stimulation, laser stimulation, acustimulation device and acupressure; it did not comment on whether one or more forms of stimulation were more effective; it found low-quality evidence supporting stimulation of P6 compared with sham, with 2 out of 59 trials having low risk of bias. EBM reviewer Bandolier said that P6 in two studies showed 52% of patients with control having a success, compared with 75% with P6.
A variant system known as two point acupressure attempts to bypass a blockage of vital flow by using one acupoint to create a link with one of the collateral meridians, and then using one additional acupoint to stimulate or reduce the flow around the obstruction.
Clinical use of acupressure frequently relies on the conceptual framework of traditional Chinese medicine. There is no physically verifiable anatomical or histological basis for the existence of acupuncture points or meridians. Proponents reply that TCM is a prescientific system that continues to have practical relevance. Acupuncturists tend to perceive TCM concepts in functional rather than structural terms (e.g., as being useful in guiding evaluation and care of patients). Any benefit from acupressure may derive from the placebo effect.
There are several different instruments for applying nonspecific pressure by rubbing, rolling, or applying pressure on the reflex zones of the body. The acuball is a small ball made of rubber with protuberances that is heatable. It is used to apply pressure and relieve muscle and joint pain. The energy roller is a small cylinder with protuberances. It is held between the hands and rolled back and forth to apply acupressure. The foot roller (also “krupa chakra”) is a round, cylindrical roller with protuberances. It is placed on the floor and the foot is rolled back and forth over it. The power mat (also pyramid mat) is a mat with small pyramid-shaped bumps that you walk on. The spine roller is a bumpy roller containing magnets that is rolled up and down the spine. The Teishein is one of the original nine classical acupuncture needles described in the original texts of acupuncture. Even though it is described as an acupuncture needle it did not pierce the skin. It is used to apply rapid percussion pressure to the points being treated.
- Shiatsu, a Japanese form of acupressure massage
- Lee EJ, Frazier SK (October 2011). “The efficacy of acupressure for symptom management: a systematic review”. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. 42 (4): 589–603. doi:10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2011.01.007. PMC 3154967. PMID 21531533.
- Barrett S (March 9, 2006). “Massage Therapy: Riddled with Quackery”. Quackwatch. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
- Smith CA, Collins CT, Crowther CA, Levett KM (July 2011). Smith CA (ed.). “Acupuncture or acupressure for pain management in labour”. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (7): CD009232. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD009232. PMID 21735441.
- Furlan AD, Giraldo M, Baskwill A, Irvin E, Imamura M (September 2015). “Massage for low-back pain”. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (9): CD001929. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD001929.pub3. PMID 26329399.
- Dent HE, Dewhurst NG, Mills SY, Willoughby M (June 2003). “Continuous PC6 wristband acupressure for relief of nausea and vomiting associated with acute myocardial infarction: a partially randomised, placebo-controlled trial”. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 11 (2): 72–7. doi:10.1016/s0965-2299(03)00058-x. PMID 12801491.
- Lee A, Chan SK, Fan LT (November 2015). “Stimulation of the wrist acupuncture point PC6 for preventing postoperative nausea and vomiting”. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (11): CD003281. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD003281.pub4. PMC 4679372. PMID 26522652.
- “Nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy”. 1999. Archived from the original on 2012-12-23.
- Borzou SR, Akbari S, Fallahinia GH, Mahjub (2017). “The Effect of Acupressure at the Point of Hugo on Pain Severity of Needle Insertion in Arteriovenous Fistulas in Hemodialysis Patients”. Nephro-Urology Monthly. 12: 34-. doi:10.5812/numonthly.14252.
- Mann F (1996). Reinventing Acupuncture: A New Concept of Ancient Medicine. London: Butterworth Heinemann. p. 14.
… acupuncture points are no more real than the black spots that a drunkard sees in front of his eyes.Quoted by Bauer M (August 2006). The Final Days of Traditional Beliefs? – Part One. Chinese Medicine Times. 1. Archived from the original on 2009-01-22.
- “Acupuncture”. NIH Consensus statement. National Institutes of Health: Consensus Development Conference Statement. November 1997. Retrieved 30 January 2007.
Despite considerable efforts to understand the anatomy and physiology of the ‘acupuncture points’, the definition and characterization of these points remains controversial. Even more elusive is the basis of some of the key traditional Eastern medical concepts such as the circulation of Qi, the meridian system, and the five phases theory, which are difficult to reconcile with contemporary biomedical information but continue to play an important role in the evaluation of patients and the formulation of treatment in acupuncture
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