Why Acupressure Can’t Work

EB writes: “I have been seeing a certified acupressure therapist. Does this pertain to the New Age category like chiropractors?”

Yes, this is New Age.

Acupressure is known as “acupuncture without needles” and is a form of complementary medicine, meaning it is often combined with conventional medical treatments (see Understanding Complementary & Alternative Medicine)

Practitioner websites describe acupressure as “an ancient healing art that uses the fingers to press key points on the surface of the skin to stimulate the body’s natural self-curative abilities. When these points are pressed, they release muscular tension and promote the circulation of blood and the body’s life force to aid healing. Acupuncture and acupressure use the same points, but acupuncture employs needles, while acupressure uses the gentle but firm pressure of hands (and even feet).”

An acupressure therapist may apply physical pressure to acupuncture points with the hand, elbow, or other device such as an acuball, energy roller or foot roller. One of the most commonly used acupressure device is the acupressure wristband – called “Sea Bands” – that many use to relieve symptoms of motion sickness.

As you may or may not know, acupuncture/acupressure is based in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and the belief that a universal life force known as chi runs through the body through 14 channels known as meridians. Practitioners believe that sickness can be caused by blockages in the flow of chi, or imbalances in two opposing “energies” known as yin and yang. In order to cure illness and other maladies, a needle or pressure is applied to any one of hundreds of points on the body known as acupoints that are positioned along the meridians and which are thought to correspond to specific organs or body systems.

Even though acupuncture/acupressure has quite a following around the world, there is virtually no scientific evidence to support its efficacy for anything other than nausea and some types of pain (and even these conclusions are not convincing). While it’s true that the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health have come out in favor of acupuncture for some conditions, these statements have been heavily criticized for bias and reliance on poorly designed studies.

However, science is studying acupuncture from a neuroscientific point-of-view rather than for its basis in traditional Chinese medicine. It is believed that acupuncture may cause the release of endorphins which are part of the body’s natural pain-control system; by stimulation of nerves in the spinal chord that release pain-suppressing neurotransmitters; or by the naturally occurring increase in blood flow in puncture areas that remove toxic substances. Scientists have arrived at no conclusions, however, and these studies are ongoing.

EB states that her therapist is “certified” but it doesn’t really matter because neither acupressure nor acupuncture work so visiting a practitioner will do little good other than give one a nice big placebo high for a few days. (See Power of Placebo)

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