Acupressure is an ancient art of healing believed by some people 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 to aid in the healing process.

What's the difference between acupressure and acupuncture?

Acupressure and acupuncture are actually quite alike. In fact, 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 between the professions is that an acupuncturist stimulates points by inserting needles, whereas an acupressurist stimulates the same points using finger pressure.

How does acupressure work?

Like acupuncture, acupressure involves the stimulation of certain points on the body. Stimulating these points can trigger the release of endorphins, chemicals produced by the body that relieve pain. When endorphins are released, the 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. A person with a tension headache, for instance, may actually be suffering from pain or stress in the shoulder and neck. An acupressurist would focus not only on relieving pain and discomfort, but removing the source of that pain and discomfort, before it develops into a more serious condition.

Besides relieving pain, acupressure can help rebalance the body by lowering stress and tension levels and strengthening the immune system. Certain acupressure points can also relieve tension in the chest, enabling people to breathe more deeply and sleep better, and there has been anecdotal evidence that acupressure can help pregnant women have a quicker, less painful delivery.

Advantages and Limits of Acupressure

Acupressure has several advantages over most other forms of healing:

However, acupressure is not without its limits. 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 also be taken by pregnant women or those with recently-formed scars, burns, infections or skin lesions. Patients should always consult with a licensed health care professional before using acupressure or any other form of health care.

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