Meet Acupressure: Acupuncture’s Needle-Free Cousin

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I'll be honest: 99% of the time, any kind of massage sounds amazing to me. As long as I can lie down, listen to calming music, and have some gentle soul rub the knots out of my back, I'm good. But every once in a while, I need to call in the heavy artillery.
That's where acupressure comes in. It's a technique that originates in traditional Chinese medicine, and it's been used for more than 2,000 years. It's meant to stimulate the same points as acupuncture, just with fingers, elbows, or other objects instead of needles, reports the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine. The healing benefits are the same too, though acupressure is less powerful than the invasive option. (Foot reflexology, ear auriculotherapy, and cupping are other therapies that work by stimulating acupoints.)
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There are 361 main acupoints all over your body that can be stimulated for different reasons, says William Kaplanidis, a licensed acupuncturist who practices at the Open Center in New York City. A certain set of points might relieve stress, while another might improve digestion, for instance.
"By stimulating those points, you can affect the organs in your body or different systems like the immune system and respiratory system," he says.
While acupuncture is considered an alternative medicine, recently more and more studies have validated its use for certain conditions.
In a study done in Berlin, acupressure was shown to reduce menstrual pain in women. After six months of practicing it on themselves, almost 60% of participants experienced a 50% reduction in pain intensity, reports the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Other research from the University of Rochester Medical Center found that cancer patients who wore acupressure wristbands experienced much less nausea than those in the control group. And University of California Irvine researchers found that an acupressure treatment done to children about to undergo anesthesia noticeably lowered their anxiety levels.
Kaplanidis recommends seeing a licensed acupuncturist for acupressure treatments. When done by a professional, there are very few risks associated with acupressure, except some slight bruising where the pressure was applied, he says.
If you enjoy it, you can learn to perform it on yourself, Kaplanidis adds. You can use your fingers, or there are tools, like acupressure mats, that could help too. Ask your acupuncturist for tips or a good guide. You may still want to visit the pro now and then, but being able to do it solo, for free, at home? Not a bad deal.
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