Acupuncture and Acupressure

Acupuncture and acupressure are two very similar therapies in both name and purpose. Each is a traditional Chinese therapy that has been practiced for more than 2,000 years. They are traditionally meant to help balance one's chi, which is the flow of life energy or force, in an effort to reduce pain, discomfort, and the severity of certain illnesses. The primary difference between the two practices is the technique that practitioners use. People who are considering either of these two therapies should understand the differences between them and discuss any possible contraindications with their health care provider. Additionally, when seeking either type of therapy, one should locate a licensed and experienced practitioner.


Acupuncture involves the insertion of thin needles at certain points in the body. In traditional Chinese acupuncture, these points are called meridians. In Western cultures, these points are known as acupuncture points. When inserted in the appropriate acupuncture points, the needles are believed to increase blood flow and augment the body's natural painkillers by stimulating connective tissue, nerves, and muscles. During the procedure, which can take between 15 minutes and an hour, the patient is typically lying down. There is very little, if any, pain, and one may feel extreme relaxation once the needles are inserted.

Some of the conditions that people treat with acupuncture include fibromyalgia, headaches, nausea related to chemotherapy, post-operative dental pain, and musculoskeletal problems such as tendinitis or lower back and neck pain. There are some potential risks and side effects, however, often due to some failure of the acupuncturist, such as poor training or unclean needles. These risks include accidental injury to organs such as lung punctures, viral infections such as hepatitis, or bacterial infections. A person may also experience some degree of bruising and soreness. People who should avoid having the procedure done include pregnant women, people with pacemakers, and individuals who have a bleeding disorder.


Like in the practice of acupuncture, certain points in the body are thought to be connected to certain organs. These points are targeted for treatment, but unlike with acupuncture, the practitioner does not use needles. Instead, practitioners use their hands, fingers, elbows, or even their feet to apply pressure to these points and restore the energy balance. In some cases, a person can self-administer acupressure under the guidance of a physician. Practitioners in the West believe that acupressure works by stimulating endorphins, improving circulation, and helping to relax tension in muscles.

Acupressure is believed to help prevent nausea following chemotherapy or after surgery. It is also used to relieve depression, anxiety, arthritis, some of the symptoms associated with cancer, and even pain such as lower back pain and headache. People should avoid acupressure if they have varicose veins, rheumatoid arthritis, or a spinal injury. Bone diseases and bone cancer also prohibit this form of treatment. If a person has cancer, acupressure should not be applied over or near the tumor.