Acupressure is an ancient form of healing believed by some to be even older than acupuncture. It involves the use of the fingers (and in some cases, the toes) to press key points on the surface of the skin to stimulate the body’s natural ability to heal itself. Pressing on these points relieves muscle tension, which promotes the circulation of blood and qi (pronounced “chee”) — the vital energy or “life force” — to aid in the healing process.
Acupressure and acupuncture are somewhat similar. Acupressure is sometimes referred to as “needleless acupuncture,” because both forms of healing use the same points to achieve the desired results. The main difference is that an acupuncturist stimulates points by inserting needles, whereas an acupressurist stimulates the same points using finger pressure.
Stimulating specific points on the body can trigger the release of endorphins (chemicals produced by the body that relieve pain). When endorphins are released, pain is blocked, and the flow of blood and oxygen to the affected area is increased. This causes the muscles to relax and promotes healing. In acupressure, as with most traditional Chinese medicine concepts, local symptoms are considered an expression of the whole body’s condition.
When performed correctly, acupressure increases circulation, reduces tension and enables the body to relax. Reducing tension, in turn, strengthens the immune system and promotes wellness. However, applying acupressure too abruptly, or using too much force during treatment, can lead to bruising and discomfort. Great care should be used when applying pressure to points on or near the abdomen, groin, armpits or throat. Special care should be when treating pregnant women or those with recently-formed scars, burns, infections or skin lesions.
Acupuncture is one of the oldest, most commonly used systems of healing in the world. Originating in China some 3,500 years ago, only in the last three decades has it become popular in the United States.
Traditional Chinese medicine asserts that there are as many as 2,000 acupuncture points on the human body, which are connected by 20 pathways (12 main, 8 secondary) called meridians. These meridians conduct energy, or qi (pronounced “chee”), between the surface of the body and its internal organs. Each point has a different effect on the qi that passes through it. Qi is believed to help regulate balance in the body. It is influenced by the opposing forces of yin and yang, which represent positive and negative energy and forces in the universe and human body. Acupuncture is believed to keep the balance between yin and yang, thus allowing for the normal flow of qi throughout the body and restoring health to the mind and body.
Several theories have been presented as to exactly how acupuncture works. One theory suggests that pain impulses are blocked from reaching the spinal cord or brain at various “gates” to these areas. Since a majority of acupuncture points are either connected to (or are located near) neural structures, this suggests that acupuncture stimulates the nervous system. Another theory suggests that acupuncture stimulates the body to produce narcotic-like substances called endorphins, which reduce pain. Other studies have found that other pain-relieving substances called opiods may be released into the body during acupuncture treatment.
Unlike hypodermic needles, acupuncture needles are solid and hair-thin, and they are not designed to cut the skin. They are also inserted to much more shallow levels than hypodermic needles, generally no more than a half-inch to an inch depending on the type of treatment being delivered. While each person experiences acupuncture differently, most people feel only a minimal amount of pain as the needles are inserted. Some people reportedly feel a sensation of excitement, while others feel relaxed. If you experience significant pain from the needles, it may be a sign that the procedure is being done improperly.