An imbalance of the body’s energy, or ‘qi’, is thought to be the cause. To cure the imbalance, an acupressure therapist will put pressure on certain ‘acupoints’ to unblock the meridians (energy pathways).

Acupressure unclogs the body's built up energy in the meridian pathways while triggering the release of muscular tension and blood flow. This can help to restore the body to its equilibrium, while also working to relieve a range of physical and emotional ailments.

On this page we will discover the types, benefits and what to expect from an acupressure session. We will also cover self-applied acupressure and what training qualifications and experience you should look for in a therapist.

What are the benefits of acupressure treatment?

There is some medical research showing that it can help relieve certain types of pain. Studies are still ongoing to find out how it does so. However, there isn’t any scientific evidence to either accept or reject the use of acupressure. It’s worth noting that they have not ruled out the method of stimulating bioelectrical impulses on the body, or qi energy.

What we do know is that acupressure is a very popular form of treatment in the West. There are many claims that the therapy has aided the relief of a range of physical and emotional ailments. It is also thought to be beneficial for maintaining good health and detoxifying the body.

Here are a number of issues that the holistic therapy is commonly used to help treat:

  • Pain relief. When acupressure points on the body are stimulated, endorphins and oxytocin are released. While oxytocin calms and relaxes the body, the endorphins re-energise, working together to relieve pain. This increases the blood flow in the areas of muscle tension and pain, ‘blocking’ the pain signals that are sent to the brain. The firm pressure applied to the acupressure points works to soothe the tense muscles, which have contracted because of a lactic acid build up.
  • Stress relief. Due to its calming effects, acupressure has been found to be beneficial to people who are suffering from stress. Many people suffer from stress resulting in muscular tension and internal pressures. Stress can have a negative effect on your internal energy. This is where acupressure comes in to restore balance to the body. It enables your qi energy to circulate properly by unlocking the meridian pathways. This promotes a greater sense of well-being by tackling the blockages stress causes.
  • Cold and flu treatment. Acupressure is often thought to help when you have a virus because of its ability to promote self-healing. Colds and flu can leave you feeling sapped of energy. This gives the inclination that the body is working extremely hard to fight the illness. Acupressure aims to speed up the healing process even though you may experience maximised symptoms.
  • Infertility treatment. Many use acupressure as a type of infertility treatment because it does not involve any medicine or invasive procedures. Different types of healing massage have been used for thousands of years to boost the chances of conception, improve hormonal balance and help regulate the menstrual cycle. The therapy aims to increase blood circulation by pressing certain meridian points - sending oxygen rich blood to the reproductive organs. This helps to ease pelvic congestions, expel toxins and may even reduce inflammation. These are all considered to be important in maintaining healthy reproductive organs. 
  • Maternity acupressure. Acupressure therapy can also be beneficial for pregnant women. It offers a safe way to reduce labour pains and encourage childbirth naturally. Maternity acupressure involves stimulating certain meridian points that help with the preparation of childbirth. The calming effects encourage the cervix to dilate, which is particularly beneficial for women who are overdue. It also offers a source of pain management during the labour process. This helps to ensure a more relaxed mother-to-be and thus minimising stress for the baby.
  • Weight-loss. Regular acupressure treatment can help with weight-loss goals. To achieve this, the therapist puts pressure on the meridians in the spleen and stomach area. Then healing energy is thought to travel through the digestive meridian pathways. The revitalised flow of energy will help restore the body’s natural state. It encourages better food choices and a more positive outlook on maintaining a healthy lifestyle and on weight-loss. Studies have found that acupressure is a beneficial treatment for weight-loss. A particular study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine showed that massage therapy techniques can result in an average deduction of 1.7 BMI points. This was compared to data collected from those using only counselling as a weight loss aid. Their BMI loss was only by .05 points.
  • Emotional healing. Acupressure can support the healing of many emotional issues. These include sadness, depression and grief. The therapy does this by addressing the body’s energy imbalances. Massage therapy techniques are a key source of energy healing. They help the body to restore itself both physically and emotionally. It flushes out negative tension and energies and thus provides an uplifting effect. Acupressure is considered beneficial for helping individuals to feel more focused and aware of their emotions and negative triggers. This enables them to find ways to stay positive and enjoy life. 

What to expect in a session

There are several techniques that can stimulate acupressure points on the human body. The variation will typically depend on the symptoms of the patient. This is because certain acupoints will correspond with certain ailments. 

Before your treatment starts, your therapist will ask you what’s troubling you. They do this to find out what techniques to use and what meridian points to target. 

You will be fully clothed during the session. However, it is recommended that you wear loose, comfortable clothing. You will be asked to lie on a padded table while the therapist massages specific energy points and the surrounding muscles and joints. This shouldn’t be painful and you should only feel slight pressure. If you find it uncomfortable, let your practitioner know. They will then adjust their technique. 

An average session will last between 30 and 60 minutes. So make sure you drink plenty of water beforehand to prevent dehydration. Try to keep any food consumption beforehand light and non-spicy. This means if your stomach is massaged, you will not feel any digestive discomfort. 

You may require follow-up sessions to ensure the best relief from your symptoms. A typical course of treatment may involve regular weekly visits for around six weeks. Spreading it out like this will give you time to really determine the effects of treatment. You can then decide whether it is beneficial for you. Above all it will be a chance to sit back, relax and enjoy the massaging sensation. 

Types of acupressure

Here are some of the most common forms of acupressure massage used today, which are considered to be the most beneficial for a range of ailments and symptoms: 

  • Tui Na Chinese massage. One of the most common acupressure treatments is the ancient Tui Na Chinese massage. It involves a range of full body stretches and hand movements. Many of the techniques are similar to Western massage styles such as gliding, kneading, rolling, pulling and tapping. Stimulation of the acupoints is done by using knuckles, palms, fingers and thumbs to target key muscle groups. This therapy is considered to be more effective for healing very specific problems. 
  • Shiatsu massage. Shiatsu is an ancient Japanese healing art that involves the use of hands, arms, legs and even feet to apply pressure to meridian points. Some versions do use other healing techniques. It also incorporates a number of different dance-like movements to stretch the body and to apply a very direct and firm pressure to the meridian points. Similar to other forms of acupressure, the movements, pressure applied and meridian points will depend on the patient’s reason for choosing the therapy. If you would like to find out more about shiatsu massage, visit our fact-sheet.
  • Su-Jok. Originating from South Korea, Su-Jok is considered to be one of the simplest acupressure therapies. 'Su Jok' translates as 'hand feet'. It is a healing art that concentrates on applying pressure to the acupoints on these body parts. The reason it focuses on the hands and feet is because the meridian points correspond to other organs in the body. Massaging these meridians enables fast healing through the qi energy pathways. Su-Jok is thought to provide swift relief. It is believed to be particularly good for chronic pain and tension-related problems.
  • Reiki. Reiki is another Asian healing art that follows similar processes to acupressure by using the same acupoints on the body. It primarily involves using the palm of the hand to channel and stimulate life energy. It’s also believed to have the same effect as acupressure. The difference is that Reiki therapy can be used to heal the body from a distance. It also uses alternative healing techniques such as the use of homeopathic medicine, crystals and aromatherapy. Reiki works to restore the balance of energy in your body. It ultimately aims to promote self-healing, block pain and remove emotional issues.

Self-applied acupressure

A trained practitioner will offer the most effective type of acupressure, but you can self-apply the technique. Individuals can use an acupressure mat to discover what points to target that can help relieve their symptoms. With this information, they can use their finger and thumb to administer the pressure from their own home. 

Some types of self-applied acupressure utilise the acupressure mat. Used in addition to acupressure treatment, this self healing tool – which is covered in spikes protected by rounded tips - can be used a couple of times a week to achieve a range of self-healing, relaxation and meditation benefits. It is recommended that users lie on the mat for a duration of 20-30 minutes. In this time the pressure can most effectively release endorphins and help to soothe muscle aches and pains. But make sure you seek advice from a trained practitioner beforehand. 

What training qualifications and experience should therapists have? 

In the UK there is no overall governing body to provide national standards for acupressure treatment. However, there are a number of professional bodies and associations in which professionals can choose to register with. Although there is no specific acupressure association, it is recognised under acupuncture guidelines, which entail a strict code of ethics and practice. In order to become a member of a professional body, acupressure practitioners will need several years of training and experience behind them. Specific requirements will vary from association to association. Ultimately, their professional membership will ensure a degree of reliability and safety in the eyes of those seeking treatment.