Acupressure is a type of touch therapy rooted in the principles of ancient Chinese medicine. The central element of acupressure lies in the use of touch and pressure on specific points of the body for the purpose of balancing the body's energy. Acupressure observes the same healing points as acupuncture, but without the use of needles. Acupressure therapy has been used for a variety of conditions, including fatigue. However, clinical research evaluating the effects of acupressure on fatigue remains limited.
Theory Behind Acupressure
Acupressure theory is based on the philosophy that pressure on certain points of the body triggers a healing reaction and the release of chemicals called endorphins, which modify pain, mood and physical wellness. This chemical release is localized to pressure points that correspond through a possible physiological connection to the targeted problem.
Points on the Head
Several acupressure points on the head have been used for fatigue. Yin Tang is an acupressure point directly on the forehead. Anmian is a point found on both sides of the head directly behind each ear. These points are categorized as relaxation acupressure points. Si Shen Chong is an acupressure point at the top on the head and is considered a stimulating acupressure point. A small study involving 43 people with cancer-related fatigue evaluated the use of stimulating and relaxation acupressure points for this symptom. The study report, published in the 2011 issue of "Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine," noted a significant reduction of fatigue with both types of acupressure therapy.
Points on the Upper and Lower Body
Other acupressure points on the upper and lower body are used by practitioners to address fatigue. The large intestine point is found on palms of each hand at the thick area between the thumb and fingers. The stomach point is situated on the inside of both wrists. The conception vessel is positioned right at the belly button. The kidney point is located at the inside of each ankle. The liver points are at the tops of both feet, behind the toes. The spleen points are at the lower shin on both legs. The stomach points are directly below the knees on both legs.
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Acupressure is generally applied by a trained practitioner or may be taught by an experienced practitioner for self-treatment. Acupressure is commonly performed by making small clockwise circles with either the index finger, the thumb or an acupressure pencil using firm pressure for approximately 3 minutes per pressure point several times per week for about 30 minutes. There may be variation in the recommended frequency and duration depending on the specifics of a given situation.
Studying Fatigue and Acupressure
Acupressure has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine as well as other forms of Asian medicine. Recent interest has triggered research using evidence-based studies to evaluate its effectiveness for various types of fatigue. Few studies have been performed so far, with the common limitation that fatigue is a self-reported feeling that is subjective and susceptible to placebo effect. A research study published in the November 2013 issue of the journal "Alternative Therapies of Health and Medicine" found that people undergoing hemodialysis who were treated with acupressure applied using an acupressure pen 3 times weekly for a month had lower levels of self-reported fatigue compared to other hemodialysis patients not receiving acupressure.
Dr. Heidi Moawad is a neurologist and author of "Careers Beyond Clinical Medicine," a career guide for physicians. Dr. Moawad teaches human physiology and Global Health at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio