Acupressure as Self-Care

Acupressure can be a surprisingly effective at-home treatment, and is fairly easily done by someone with little to no experience. The only trick can be in finding the right location. First, how do acupuncture points work? The answer isn’t simple but modern science suggests that part of the theory is that acupuncture (done in the clinic with needles by a license acupuncturist) and acupressure (the application of pressure to these same acupoint locations) stimulates the release of endorphins by the brain that have a pain-relieving effect, like morphine.

     Secondly, stimulation of these points affects local nerves, changing the message of pain to the brain via spinal cord/spinal nerves. And interestingly, stimulation of these points acts to moderate electrical activity or ionic exchange in local areas, functioning like little transformers or boosters. There is much scientific research being done in this field which reveal more of the ancestors of Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture just put into different words.

    For example, “Qi” represents a potential for proper functioning, of either an area or limb, or a system in the body. Is this nervous system functioning, electrical activity, change in chemicals or hormones? Possibly any or all of these. 

   This article is part 2 in a series of suggestions for acupressure points to be used at home that are most useful for many general and some specific complaints. Last time I gave points such as Large Intestine 4, and Stomach 36 among others, and today we build on those. 

    To stimulate an acupressure point, use a finger or thumb, a knuckle, or two or three fingers together with direct pressure that is firm, but not too hard. Press the point lightly at first, and then progress to a deeper pressure, until you find a distending sensation around the point, or a dull ache that either spreads around or travels outward from the point. Press and hold the point, until pain subsides, or perhaps until an ease is felt, or muscles relax. Times to take caution: with someone who has an injury avoid acupoints near the site of injury; with children, only light pressure is needed; and with pregnant women, they should always check with their licensed acupuncturist first before using acupressure, even if information is found on the web. I include some points below that should NOT be used for pregnant women.

    Liver 3-Tai Chong, “Great Surging,” or “Great Thoroughfare”, this is definitely a point to get things moving! NOTE: not to be used in pregnancy. Located between the big toe and the second toe, in the divot just above where your flip-flop thong would sit. When pressed correctly, there is a little pressure of ache here. This is a very widely used acupuncture point, often in combo with its friend Large Intestine -4 (on the hand, see my previous article.)

    When used together, these powerful points are used for tension, stress, headaches and even facial paralysis, vertigo or dizziness. They can relieve pain all over the body, but work great for head and eye issues. I’ve assigned this point many times to kids who get headaches as a result of eye strain or staring at a computer for too long. That can be many of us these days, as we do more work and school tasks from home. Alone, Liver 3 is useful for certain kinds of headaches, calming the spirit, supporting someone who has been diagnosed as “blood deficient,” and help with reproductive or menstrual issues, such as menstrual cramps. 

    Large Intestine-10, Shou San LI, “Arm Three Miles”, another endurance point like St-36, Zu San Li, its mirror equivalent on the leg. LI 10 is located just below the crease at your elbow when it is bent. There is a small valley or divot here if you use light pressure to find it. It is about two thumb widths (your own thumb) below this elbow crease, in a muscular spot. Acupressure at this point on the arm can be helpful for arm tension involving the whole arm, including the shoulder and wrist. It energizes the whole arm, can relieve pain. I suggest this one for those who are typing all day at their computers. It can help to rotate the affected joint while pressing the point.

   Pericardium-6, Nei Guan, “Inner Gate,” is located on the inner wrist between the two prominent tendons, about two thumb widths away from the wrist crease, and is largely knows as the “nausea point.” And for good reason, since it’s used for nausea of many kinds, as well as vomiting, seasickness, hangovers, and stomachache. Nei Guan regulates “Heart Qi” and is used frequently in acupuncture sessions for chest symptoms, including diaphragm tightness, and so can be useful for a stuffy feeling in the chest, or shallow breathing. Nei Guan can have a calming effect often, reflecting the entwined concept of the Heart and the mind in Chinese medicine.

    Auricular or ear acupuncture developed much later than the traditional acupoints of Asian medicine, and is based moreso in modern biomedicine. I have often recommended ear massage to my patients as a way to bring overall calm, especially those prone to anxiety. Many points on the ear work to encourage homeostasis of the body’s systems, and promote overall relaxation. The points are a little too precise to describe the location of for this purpose, but overall massage does the job for many. Try using thumb and forefinger on an ear, taking care to reach all parts, front and back, with gentle pressure, massaging until the ear feels warm. If you choose to massage only one ear, choose the one on your dominant side. Ear massage works well for self, for loved ones, for little ones and for furry friends as well. Use lighter pressure for the small ones!

    If you aren’t sure about the point location or would like more personalized advice about acupressure, you can schedule a telemedicine acupressure consultation here!

by Blake Faulkner, L.Ac.

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