Acupressure Massage and Pressure Points
Acupressure can be added to various kinds of massage and manual therapies to increase benefits and add value for your clients. In Eastern bodywork practices such as Shiatsu, Tui Na, and Thai massage pressure points are frequently used to alleviate pain and help with headaches, neck pain, low back pain, and more.
Western styles of massage and bodywork are recognizing the positive effects of acupressure, and even doctors and physical therapists are increasingly using pressure points in various ways. For instance, there is a lot of overlap between trigger points and pressure points as these frequently occur in places where people hold tension.
Massage therapists, bodyworkers, and manual therapists can greatly assist their clients when they include acupressure into their practice.
What is a Pressure Point?
Pressure points are areas in the body that can hold tension and are sensitive to pressure. They can also stop pain when massage is applied. Modern studies are revealing that the muscles and fascia, or myofascia, are involved in the therapeutic benefits of pressure point massage. In traditional Asian medicine acupressure points are believed to exist along meridians which are pathways of energy flow. Contemporary studies show a lot of overlap between meridians and myofascial lines.
Davidparmenter, Trigger Point Complex, Wikimedia Commons
The image on the left shows an acupressure point that is also a common trigger point. It is located on the top of the trapezius and is known as GB 21. This is a very common area where people hold tension.
The image on the right shows various muscles that are connected through the fascia to form what is known as the Superficial Back Arm Line (SBAL). This is a myofascial line that extends from the hands, through the arms, and into the neck and shoulders. With acupressure and acupuncture, we can stimulate points in the hands and arms to stop pain in the shoulders and neck. This works because stimulating the myofascial line on one end, such as in the hands, will effect the opposite end of the line in the neck and shoulders.
Imagine pulling on one end of a string, what happens when you do that? The opposite end of the string will also move. The same happens when we apply massage, acupressure, or acupuncture needles to the pressure points in the hands and arms - it effects the opposite end of the line in the neck and shoulders.
The point LI 4 (Union Valley) is widely known for treating headaches and other types of pain. It is located beteen the thumb and index finger in the belly of the muscle. Firm pressure applied here for 30 seconds or longer can alleviate tension headaches and pain in the neck and shoulders.
Notice how this point and others on the hand are located at the end of the Superfical Back Arm Line (SBAL). On the opposite end of the SBAL is the neck, trapezius, and head.
When using acupressure it is important to remember that applying stimulus at one end of a meridian or myofascial line, will effect the opposite end of the same line.
One of the easiest ways to work with pressure points is to simply apply pressure to the point and hold it firmly for at least 10 - 20 seconds. Various massage techniques can also be used,
as well as muscle scraping or gua sha.
How do Pressure Points Work?
Pressure points work on the muscles and nerves to help to reduce muscular tension and pain. When muscles get too tight, contracted, or strained it can damage the tissues and create trigger points. By applying pressure to points it helps to reduce tension and promote blood circulation.
There are two major ways to work with acupressure points to get beneficial results. One way is to press directly on the point itself - this is called a local point. The second method is to apply pressure or massage to non-local areas. For instance, if you press a point on your hand to stop a headache, that is what we call a non-local point.
1. Local Pressure Points
2. Non - Local Pressure Points
77.01 - 77.04
The image above on the left shows a myofascial line known as the Superficial Back Line (SBL). It is very similar to what is known as the urinary bladder meridian in Chinese medicine. However, this image reveals a myofascial basis for this meridian. The other image shows a group of points on the achilles tendon and in the lower part of the calf muscle. In acupuncture we use these points for treating neck pain and headaches in the back of the head. We can call these non-local points when we use them for treating pain in the head and neck.
Similarly, there are pressure points higher in the calves that can be used for upper and lower back pain. Points in the hamstrings can also be used for low back pain and pain higher up on the myofascial line.
Why are Non-Local Pressure Points Important?
Pressure point massage produces effects through the myofascial lines and meridians, and non-local points are often more effective than massaging local areas of pain. This is especially true for acute conditions and traumatic injuries.
Have you ever had a client that recently injured themselves and when you did local massage or manual therapies it made the pain worse? This often happens because with acute injuries there is local tissue damage and inflammation. When you apply pressure or other manual methods to the injured areas it can easily aggravate the damaged tissues.
Using non-local points on the same myofascial line, that are distant from the area of pain, will often give quick relief and it avoids irritating the condition. This also works for chronic disorders and they tend to respond faster with non-local points as well.
Non-Local Effects & Myofascial Lines / Chains
Tension and pain can move through the musculoskeletal system and myofascial lines. In the myofascial chain model, tension produced through muscle contractions can move through local and non-local regions. (Bordoni, B., and Myers, Thomas, 2020)
It is also important to understand that muscles in a myofascial line work together and have similar structural and functional roles. What happens to one muscle in the line will effect other muscles along that chain, and this is transmitted through tension in the fascia Myofascial lines and chains are used in physiotherapy, osteopathic medicine, sports training, massage, and yoga. Additionally, myofascial lines explain many things about traditional acupressure points.
In Thai massage it is common to use pressure points with massage and movement. Typically, Thai massage will start with massaging the meridians, and therapists may spend extra time on points that are extra sensitive. The Northern styles will also use a variety of movements and yoga like stretches to reach the various regions of the meridian lines.
Learning the myofascial lines and how they connect to the meridians and acupressure points provides a powerful basis for getting better therapeutic results. If you are treating clients for neck, shoulder, or back pain - and musculoskeletal conditions in general - it is essential to understand the myofascial lines and meridians.
Another benefit of learning acupressure and massage techniques that use pressure points, is that you can get faster and longer lasting results for your clients. Some massage therapists can even get people out of pain within minutes when they learn how acupressure points work. When these methods are mastered, simple touch on the right points can stop pain effectively.
myofascial Lines, Meridians, Massage, and Manual Therapies
Benefits of Using Acupressure
with Massage and Manual Therapy
Stops Pain Quickly and Effectively
Combines Well with Different Styles and Modalities
Lends Insights in Treating Structural Imbalances
Easy to Learn Points in the Context of Myofascial Anatomy
Increases Patient Visits and Retention
Join us for 10 days learning Thai medicine, massage, conscious touch, scraping, and more.
Meridians and Myofascial Lines
Superficial Back Line - SBL
The Lateral Line - LL
The Superfical Front Line - SFL
The images above show myofascial lines that run through the feet and legs. Notice how they also travel through the back, torso, and abdomen. As the muscles in any given myofascial line are connected, we can use various acupressure points on the line to influence the entire chain. For instance, points in the calves can affect the upper back since the calves are connected to the entire back via the hamstrings and erector spinae. Similarly, acupressure points in the hamstrings can benefit the lower back, as they are connected to the lumbar region through the sacral fascia.
Clients that have low back pain will often have trigger points and sensitive areas in the hamstrings. By applying acupressure techniques to the hamstrings, and working these points out, it is possible to get better results when treating clients with lumbar pain. For acute lumbar strains massaging locally can often aggravate the pain, but by apply massage on the hamstrings and calves it can reduce pain in the low back.
Similarly, we can use points in the lower legs and around the ankles to get relief from neck and shoulder pain. Some of the strongest points for relieving tension in the neck and shoulders are actually around the ankles and wrists. This is because tension in the neck muscles gets transferred through the myofascial lines and results in trigger points around the ankles and wrists. By holding and massaging these points, while having the client gently move their neck, you can get faster and more effective results.
The myofascial line model allows us to better understand how acupressure works.
The Myofascial lines & Points in the Arms
The points in red in the image are located on the lung meridian or Superficial Front Arm Line (SFAL) in myofascial anatomy. To find this meridian draw a line from the biceps tendon down to the base of the thumb. The brachioradialis is located here and there are often sensitive points from two inches to eight inches above the wrist crease. The point Lung 7 (LU 7) is about 1.5 inches above the wrist.
Traditionally, in meridian therapies these are used for lung conditions like common colds, bronchitis, and asthma. These points are also very effective for upper back pain between the scapula and spine. The points from half way down the arm to the point LU 7 at the styloid process of the radius may also be used for neck pain.
To get the best results for neck and upper back pain, press or massage up and down this line to find the most sensitive points. Once you have located the most reactive points massage between them while turning your head and neck from side to side. You may also massage each point individually or hold steady pressure for 3o seconds to two minutes. While massaging or holding pressure on the points in this area practice neck movements such as neck flexions, extensions, rotations, and tilts. Using movements with acupressure produces more effective results. Continue with the techniques for two - five minutes or until the pain subsides.
A Course in Acupressure & Myofascial lines
The course Acupressure & Myofascial Lines will give you many insights into the locations, actions, and indications of over 50 pressure points.
This course is specifically written for massage therapists and other manual therapists who work with their hands. This class will give you a powerful basis for understanding how acupressure works through myofascial anatomy.
You will learn how to get better results for common painful conditions encountered in your practice.
The course includes :
In depth coverage of over 50 points
Over 60 high quality illustrations
107 pages & 6 PDF files on each of the fascial planes
7.5 hours of audio recordings
8 hours of video recordings.
This course will soon be released, sign up below for more information and free videos and pdf files.
FAQ - How does acupressure help anxiety?
Similar to massage, pressure points stimulate a part of the nervous system called the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The PNS plays a role in helping us to sleep, relax, and feel calm. Massage and acupressure can be very relaxing because gentle touch turns on the PNS.
When we feel stressed or anxious another part of the nervous system, called the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), is active and releases adrenaline-like substances. The SNS is also connected to the fight or flight response. People that feel anxious often have some underlying fear, and the feeling of fear is connected to the PNS and fight or flight activity. Doing self-massage with pressure points brings us back to a state of mindfulness and body awareness, in addition to stimulating the PNS. In this sense, we can think of acupressure as having effects on both the mind and body.
When people feel anxious it is often important to look at the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of the disorder. Anxiety can be caused by many things and in a holistic health coaching program, we want to consider both the role of the mind and body. Additionally, social and environmental factors should be considered as some people suffer from social anxiety. Certain environments, such as noisy, loud, or crowded environments can cause anxiety in others. When I work with people with anxiety I always consider physical, mental, emotional, social, and environmental factors that may contribute to the condition. As a home remedy, self-massage with pressure points can play a useful role in addressing some of the physical and psychological factors related to anxiety.
What pressure points drain the sinuses?
Points on the face, cheeks, and near the nose are some of the best to use. However, points on the hands like LI 4 are also effective. Points on the feet between the metatarsals can be highly beneficial but require an electro-pen. There is also a group of points on the quadriceps that should be added to a routine.
What pressure points to avoid in pregnancy?
There are four key points to avoid in pregnancy: LI 4, SP 6, GB 21, and UB 60. The lower abdomen should not be massaged with heavy pressure, and caution should also be used when massaging the lower back.