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What is the difference between acupressure and acupuncture?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The benefits of acupressure for health and wellbeing are well documented throughout history, especially across Asia and the East.

In recent years, the West has embraced these Traditional Chinese practices and understood their benefits to stimulate the flow of energy or Qi through our bodies, relieving disease and pain while restoring balance and harmony.

What is acupressure?

Acupressure is the ideal self-healing treatment that can have powerful benefits for our body and mind when learnt to apply correctly. One of the benefits of acupressure is anyone can learn how to treat themselves at home with a basic understanding of the pressure points that need stimulating and the technique.

We’ll go into more detail on how to do it yourself later, but it works by using your hands to stimulate certain pressure points or acupoints in our bodies called meridians. Relieving the stagnant Qi or energy in the body encourages it to flow with ease, resulting in pain relief and relaxation.

Acupuncture works in the same way as acupressure; relieving pain and stress from the body by stimulating pressure points, but uses specialist, hair-thin needles inserted into the body to create a much deeper stimulation of the meridians.

Unlike acupressure, acupuncture must be performed by a trained acupuncturist and usually in a clinic or treatment room.

Does acupuncture & acupressure work?

While it may sound a little mythical, there is much evidence and research into these practices. So much so that even the NHS and other leading medics now use acupuncture and acupressure as part of their treatment programmes.

Acupuncture ‘It is used in many NHS GP practices, as well as in most pain clinics and hospices in the UK.’ 1

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) provides guidelines for the NHS on the use of treatments and care of patients. Currently, NICE only recommends considering acupuncture as a treatment option for:

  • chronic (long-term) pain
  • chronic tension-type headaches
  • migraines

What are the benefits of acupressure and acupuncture for health and wellbeing?

The most commonly reported benefit of acupuncture and acupressure is pain relief.

According to The Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture UK:

‘Acupuncture is more responsive to various painful conditions, such as lower back pain and other musculoskeletal problems. It is also used for a wide variety of internal health conditions. It can have a calming effect on the mind and help people feel more positive and revitalised. In terms of specific conditions, it is worth noting that The World Health Organisation (WHO) identified forty-one conditions treatable with acupuncture.’ 2

Over the past century, more mainstream healthcare organisations have found significant benefits in using acupuncture and acupressure as alternative or complementary medicines.

Today, both acupuncture and acupressure are used to treat conditions such as strokes, infertility, Alzheimer’s, anxiety, stress, depression, and even symptoms of Covid-19 and long-covid.

How does acupressure work?

In Chinese medicine, our bodies are made up of a series of pathways called meridians in which the flow of energy or Qi move. When these meridians are disrupted or blocked, the stagnation manifests physically in illness, stress and anxiety.

Acupressure can help relieve the symptoms by stimulating these pathways, using pressure with our hands, to release the energy and restore the flow within.

Once the flow is restored, we rebalance our bodies and return to good health and wellbeing.

Acupuncture achieves the same result but uses needles (to puncture the skin) instead of fingers to stimulate the meridian and restore energy flow.

Can I do acupressure at home?

Yes, in fact, it’s the ideal self-healing treatment to learn at home. Anyone can learn how to treat themselves with a little guidance in understanding the meridians and technique which needs to be applied. 

Unlike acupuncture which needs to be practised by a trained acupuncturist, acupressure can be applied regularly with little risk at home.

How do I acupressure myself?

We have written a detailed article on ‘Learning how to acupressure yourself,’ but in brief, there are two essential skills to learn acupressure:

  1. Understand which acupoints need to be stimulated for which problems.
  2. Learn the right techniques using your hands and fingers to apply pressure effectively.

Once you have learnt the basics, you can begin to work on yourself. Initially, we suggest you focus on a few specific points that are easy to reach.

For example, if you want to relieve stress, focus on the ‘chest centre’ right in the middle of your chest, between the nipples. Using firm but not uncomfortable pressure, you can stimulate this acupoint by pressing down or massaging the area. You only need to old it for a few seconds to stimulate the point.

Choose a calm and quiet place while trying to remain relaxed, breathe and listen to your body.

You should begin to feel less stressed and more relaxed as you open up your chest and release the flow of Qi or energy.

Where can I learn to perform acupressure on myself?

There are many clinics, courses and programs both online and in-person to learn all about acupressure. There is probably a TCM practice near to you if you want a traditional experience.

You can also read our recent article, which teaches you the basics step-by-step.

Does acupressure relieve stress and anxiety?

Yes. After pain relief, the most common use for acupuncture and acupressure is to relieve stress and anxiety. More importantly, patients’ most commonly reported benefit is lower stress levels, and they feel calmer and more relaxed.

Many studies and research have been done to understand how effective acupressure is to relieve stress, anxiety, and depression. While many talk about the placebo effect on patients, this recent 2021 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reports:

‘Meridian acupressure was applied to shiftwork nurses and was reported to reduce stress, fatigue, and anxiety. Therefore, it is necessary to apply Meridian acupressure to nurses in various clinical settings. The present study is significant in that Meridian acupressure could be appropriately used as a nursing intervention method to reduce shiftwork nurses’ stress, fatigue, and anxiety.’

How quickly will I feel better after having acupressure?

You should feel the effects of treatment immediately, especially if you are in a relaxed and calm environment. The pressure on your acupoints releases the flow of energy, giving you an immediate boost.

Clinically speaking, acupressure causes the release of serotonin and increases your endorphin levels; a chemical produced naturally by the nervous system to cope with pain or stress. Commonly referred to as the ‘feel good’ chemical, endorphins boost your mood, helping you to feel happier and calmer. 3

How often should I have acupressure treatment?

You can choose to perform acupressure on yourself as often as needed. The effects following treatment will depend on the severity of your ailment and pain levels. Initially, you may need to do acupressure more intensively with less frequency as you begin to recover.

The great thing is that by learning the techniques yourself, you can perform them as and when necessary, without additional cost or inconvenience.

Are there any special products I could use to improve the effects of acupressure?

From wooden massagers and rollers to therapy body scrapers and acupoint trigger pressure pens, there are many tools to help you enhance the effects of acupressure.

However, we’d advise learning the key acupoints first and then using your hands and fingers to really understand where to stimulate the meridians and how much pressure to use. Feel and touch are extremely important when learning how to find the precise points and maximise the benefits of acupressure.

If you wish to develop your skills with acupressure massage, we’d recommend using massage oil to enhance a calm and relaxing experience.

What are the top tips for acupressure techniques?

  1. Take your time, sit quietly and then begin your DIY treatment
  2. Relax and try to maintain calm rhythmic breathing
  3. Use your thumb to apply the pressure, and use your index and middle finger to help
  4. Press down firmly but not too much that it’s painful. Remember, we are relieving pain to increase the flow of energy. Don’t restrict it

The more you practise, the better you’ll learn the right acupoints and pressure levels for maximum benefit.

Where does the practice of acupuncture and acupressure come from?

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has restored balance and ease in the body and mind for thousands of years. Evolving over time, TCM’s have been adopted in Western medical practices and used as alternative or complementary treatments to aid health and wellbeing.

Today, thousands of treatment centres and clinics worldwide use acupressure and acupuncture to relieve pain, illness and stress.

Can acupressure and acupuncture be used together?

Yes. Many practitioners use a combination of the two to treat their patients.

Long after the initial acupuncture treatment has been performed, you can continue to treat yourself at home by stimulating the acupressure points until your next clinic treatment.

Similarly, acupressure massage is a very relaxing and calming complementary therapy used alongside acupuncture.

  1. Acupuncture []
  2. What is TCM []
  3. Endorphins: Effects and how to increase levels []