Acupressure Treatment For Pain

Acupressure and tuina (the Chinese massage style which incorporates acupressure) have a wide range of uses, but they are both most well known for their effect on pain. In my Bristol Chinese medicine clinic, I frequently use acupressure/tuina for pain of all kinds, and find it to be very effective.

So I thought I’d share some interesting studies on the effects of acupressure for pain relief which I’ve come across recently…

Acupressure For Period Pain

One Study has looked at acupressure for period pain (dysmenorrhea) with interesting results –  In Iran, Zahra Pouresmail et al. chose to study acupressure because of its safety, lack of side-effects and effectiveness. A group of 216 young women with regular menstrual cycles aged between 14 and 18 years was divided into 3 groups, an acupressure group, a sham acupressure group and a group receiving ibuprofen.

The acupressure and ibuprofen groups had statistically comparable results, and significantly less pain than the sham acupressure group. From this it is concluded that acupressure is an effective treatment whose lack of side-effects give it an advantage over ibuprofen (JTCM September 2002)

Acupressure For Back Pain

A Taiwanese study published in the BMJ has compared the effects of acupressure (six treatments) with standard physical therapy  for the treatment of lower back pain. 129 patients with chronic lower back pain were assigned randomly to one of the two treatment groups.

The acupressure group experienced an 89% greater relief of disability compared to the physical therapy group, and the benefit lasted at follow-up six months later. The acupressure group also reported greater improvement in leg pain, interference of pain with normal work and days off from work or school. (Lisa Li-Chen Hsieh et al. Treatment of low back pain by acupressure and physical therapy: randomised controlled trial. BMJ, Mar 2006; 332: 696-700).

Physiological Effects Of Acupressure

And an interesting study from Japan looked at the physiological response to acupressure, finding that acupressure at distal acupuncture points on the arm  associated with alleviating shoulder pain have specific beneficial effects on blood flow and oxygenation of the trapezius muscle as well as beneficial autonomic nervous activity.

Previous studies have shown that subjects with neck and shoulder pain show impaired regulation of microcirculation in the trapezius muscle and impaired function of sympathetic nerve fibres of the autonomic nervous system. Forty-one female participants were randomly allocated to three groups. Subjects in the Stomach channel (ST) group received acupressure at three distal acupuncture points on the leg, which do not relate to shoulder pain.  Subjects in the Large Intestine channel (LI) group received acupressure at three distal acupuncture points on the arm which are commonly used to treat shoulder problems. Subjects in the control group did not receive any acupressure.

Measurements of blood flow and oxygenation indicated that acupressure stimulation of the three ST points did not influence blood flow in the trapezius muscle, but rather reduced oxygenation of the muscle – This is interesting, as these are the points that would not normally used for shoulder problems.

In contrast, acupressure at the three LI points (which are used for shoulder pain)  was found to increase blood flow to the trapezius muscle and maintain oxygenation of the muscle. (Distal traditional acupuncture points of the large intestinal meridian and the stomach meridian differently affect heart rate variability and oxygenation of the trapezius muscle. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014;2014:283010).

For me, this last study shows the importance of following traditional ways of working with Chinese medicine. In a more reductionist, Western medicine oriented approach, if you have shoulder pain, you work on the shoulder. But this study validates the more holistic Chinese approach. If you have shoulder pain you work on the shoulder and also include the distal points on the arm which are known to benefit the shoulder. This way you get better, and quicker results.

Click here for more details about my practice: Bristol Acupressure Massage (Tuina)