Acupressure is a form of massage that involves applying pressure to certain areas of the body. It’s used in traditional Chinese medicine and is linked with a number of possible health benefits, including pain relief and anxiety management.

You can receive acupressure from a professional practitioner or do it yourself at home – and many people find the practice to be a positive addition to their lives.

With this in mind, we’ll cover everything you need to know about acupressure, including how it works, what the potential benefits are, and how you can use it.

What is acupressure?

What is acupressure

Acupressure is an ancient type of massage therapy that’s been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 2,000 years. It’s believed to help with a range of conditions – from stress and muscle pain, to travel sickness.

Acupressure is similar to acupuncture, as both are based on the theory that our bodies run on a system made up of energy pathways known as meridians.

Each meridian is thought to have multiple acupoints on the body surface that can be stimulated (for example, with manual pressure) to restore healthy energy flow and, therefore, positively influence various organs, areas, and systems of the body.

To help us visualise this, some experts liken the body’s energy system to the electrical systems in our homes. We can think of the meridians in our bodies as the electric wires that bring power to appliances, and the acupoints as the power switches.

Even when the electrical system in our homes is perfectly set up, we still need to activate the right controls and switches to be able to use its power. In the same way, your acupoints may benefit from some stimulation to encourage healthy energy flow to different areas of the body.

However, acupressure differs from acupuncture because it involves using manual fingertip pressure instead of needles. For many people, this can make it more appealing as while acupuncture can only be administered by a licensed professional, acupressure can also be self-administered at home.

How does acupressure work?

How does acupressure work

Research is yet to fully confirm exactly how acupressure affects the body and why it may offer health benefits – but there are a few theories.

Some experts have suggested that pressure on the surface of the skin can stimulate the release of endorphins (our body’s natural pain-relieving hormones). Others have highlighted the potential impact of acupressure on the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for controlling involuntary processes like breathing and digestion.

Many traditional Chinese medicine practitioners believe there are more than 2,000 acupressure points in the body. The World Health Organization (WHO) first identified 361 acupoints and 14 main meridians throughout the body in 1991 – but has since identified eight extra meridians and 48 extra acupressure points.

While experts may not always agree on the exact number of acupoints, this information isn’t necessarily needed to be able to use acupressure effectively. It’s often more useful to familiarise yourself with some of the most common acupressure points that are best known to offer benefits.

What are some common acupressure points?

Some acupressure points have been more studied than others for their benefits. So, if you’re a beginner, familiarising yourself with some of the more common acupressure points can be a good place to start.

Some examples include the acupressure point located in the webbing between your first finger and thumb, which is most commonly used for reducing headaches; while the acupressure point found slightly below your kneecap is thought to improve digestion.

To read more about different acupressure points and their benefits, check out this breakdown of seven common acupressure points from Holden Qigong. Healthline also has a useful guide on how to massage your pressure points for different types of relief.

What are some of the potential benefits of acupressure?

What are some of the potential benefits of acupressure

There are a number of potential health benefits to acupressure.

We’ll cover some of these below…

1. It can offer pain relief

Research suggests that acupressure may help to improve the symptoms of a number of conditions, including lower back pain, menstrual pain, labour pain, and chronic headaches.

For example, in this study, acupressure effectively relieved lower back pain. Experts linked this with its ability to improve circulation.

In another study, researchers investigated the effectiveness of acupressure mats on neck and lower back pain. Of the 82 people who took part in the study, those who used acupressure mats reported having significantly less pain than those in the control group.

2. It may temporarily relieve stress and anxiety

Research suggests that acupressure may be an effective method for helping to manage stress and anxiety.

In this study, acupressure was found to reduce stress and anxiety in nurses working long shifts; and this scientific review also found that acupressure helped to relieve anxiety in people before they received surgery. Meanwhile, another study found that acupressure reduced anxiety in people who had been hospitalised for cancer treatment.

There’s currently not enough research to fully confirm the use of acupressure as an effective treatment for anxiety, but many people find that it can be a helpful tool for temporarily taking control of their symptoms.

3. It may help improve sleep quality

Research on the link between acupressure and insomnia is currently limited, but initial studies have suggested that it may help people with insomnia get better sleep.

For example, this study of 25 people with sleep disorders found that 60% of participants experienced better quality sleep within the first 10 days of receiving acupressure.

In another study, acupressure improved the sleep quality of older adults with high blood pressure. As an added benefit, their blood pressure was lowered as a result.

Additional research also suggests a link between acupressure and improved sleep quality in older adults with Alzheimer’s disease.

4. It may reduce muscle tension and soreness

Science suggests that acupressure can offer effective relief for muscle tension and soreness.

This is because acupressure stimulates fresh blood flow, raises muscle temperature, and results in more oxygen and nutrients being delivered to an area of the body. Some people find that this offers relief from muscle soreness, tension, and tightness caused by injury, stress, fatigue, or poor circulation.

5. It may speed up recovery from injury

Some research suggests that acupressure may help to speed up recovery from injury.

For example, while acupressure can’t fix strains, sprains, and soreness by mending injured muscles, experts believe that it can help to speed up the healing process by carrying more oxygen and nutrients to damaged tissues.

For example, this study found that just three minutes of acupressure reduced pain for athletes with muscular sports injuries.

Plus, due to improved blood flow to an area, acupressure is also thought to help keep tissues healthy by supporting a process known as cellular exchange. Cellular exchange is important for flushing metabolic wastes and toxins out of tissues and can encourage healing

6. It may relieve nausea and vomiting

Several studies have linked the use of wrist acupressure with a reduction in nausea and vomiting. This includes nausea and vomiting related to surgery, chemotherapy, motion sickness, and pregnancy.

Nausea and vomiting relief is linked with the acupoint located between the two large tendons on the inside of the wrist.

For example, this study found that morning sickness was reduced in 71% of women who used acupressure wristbands.

Other research suggests that acupressure may help to reduce nausea related to migraines.

What to expect from an acupressure session and how to find an acupressure therapist

What to expect from an acupressure session and how to find an acupressure therapist

There are several different techniques that can be used to stimulate acupressure points in the body, and the method used by an acupressure therapist will largely depend on your reason for seeking the therapy.

Acupressure sessions typically last 30-60 minutes. You’ll lie fully clothed on a massage table as the practitioner gently presses acupressure points on your body. Loose, comfortable clothing is recommended and you may need several sessions for best results.

You can read more about what to expect in an acupressure session, including how to prepare for a session, on the Therapy Directory website.

In the UK, there isn’t currently an overall governing body that provides national standards for acupressure treatment. However, acupressure is recognised under acupuncture guidelines, which includes a strict code of ethics and practice.

There are also a number of professional bodies and associations that acupressure practitioners can register with. And because joining requires a number of years of experience, choosing registered practitioners can offer some reassurance for those seeking treatment.

You can search for practitioners near you on the Therapy Directory website. All acupressure practitioners listed here will have the relevant qualifications and insurance, or be members of a voluntary regulator.

Can I use acupressure at home?

Trained practitioners will generally offer the most effective form of acupressure, but you can also self-apply the techniques at home if you’d prefer.

You can use your hands for acupressure at home, or invest in specific products, such as an acupressure mat or Sea-Bands (elasticated acupressure wristbands with plastic studs that work to relieve nausea and vomiting).

Many people like to create a relaxing environment when using acupressure at home – for example, by setting aside dedicated time free of interruptions, sitting or lying down in a comfortable position, closing their eyes, and/or breathing slowly.

Experts recommend starting out with light pressure and working towards a firmer touch. However, it’s important to always be gentle and give your body a break if any areas are sore to touch. And remember, improvements may not always be immediate.

To get started, you might like to try using acupressure on one of the three common acupressure points for pain, stress, and energy. Check out the video below to see how…

Is acupressure safe to use and are there any potential side effects?

Generally speaking, acupressure is very safe to use. However, there are some important guidelines to consider and it may not be appropriate for everyone.

Firstly, people with certain health conditions – including varicose veins, rheumatoid arthritis, spinal injuries, cancer that has spread to bones, or a bone disease that could be made worse by physical manipulation – may be advised to avoid acupressure.

Similarly, pregnant women should avoid using certain acupoints that have the potential to stimulate labour.

It’s also important not to use acupressure on scar tissue, rashes, areas of swelling, or skin that’s blistered, peeling, or has an open wound.

That being said, experts advise always speaking to your doctor or another healthcare professional before using acupressure to make sure it’s safe for you to use.

Final thoughts…

Acupressure is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that offers many potential health benefits. Whether you’re struggling with stress, anxiety, pain, or poor sleep, acupressure could possibly provide some relief.

For further reading, you might want to head over to the general health section of our website. Here, you’ll find content on everything from bone and gut health to diet and nutrition tips.