DIY acupressure for better health

Feel better with fingers instead of needles.
© MSN Healthy Living // © MSN Health

Acupressure’s motto could easily be: “Let your fingers and hands do the healing.”

Acupressure is a lot like acupuncture, an ancient form of Chinese medicine in which a practitioner inserts needles on certain points along the body’s purported energy pathways, often referred to as “meridians.”

But with acupressure, you don’t need the needles. All that’s required is muscle power to press on a key locations on a meridian. Over the centuries, certain acupuncture points – simply by receiving pressure – have been shown to be effective in counteracting the symptoms of common maladies, such as headaches and back pain. And, if you’re lucky enough to “press” family members or friends into helping you, all the better.

Nevertheless, many medical doctors underscore that acupressure is no substitute for seeking medical care.

"Although acupressure may provide temporary relief, this modality should be backed up by a health professional with insight into your condition and the appropriateness of acupuncture or acupressure," says Dr. Kamau Kokayi, who is also a licensed acupuncturist at Patients Medical in New York City, where he's director of stem cell research and therapy. "Unlike with acupuncture studies, there hasn't been enough medical research conducted on acupressure treatment to fully establish its effectiveness in a range of conditions," he cautions.

Here are some ailments and their associated energy points. Precise physical locations of the following points may be found at www.acupuncture.com.

-- By Coeli Carr for MSN Healthy Living

1 of 14 Accupressure (Sigrid Gombert/Getty Images)

Constipation

The job of the large intestines is to pull moisture out of chyme, the semi-digested food that has traveled down from the stomach. “But when this mass stays in the large intestines too long, too much water is absorbed and the material stagnates,” says Sam McClellan, an acupressurist based in Hadley, Mass., who has been in private practice for 35 years. “The result is constipation. It’s like leaving a cake in the oven too long, resulting in a dried-out product.”

One solution, says McClellan, is pressing on point Large Intestine 4, located halfway up the webbing between the thumb and the index finger. “This point helps create peristalsis, which gets that potential fecal matter to start moving.”

2 of 14 Constipation (PhotoAlto/Odilon Dimier/Getty Images)

Headaches

Headaches typically happen when the nervous system becomes overstimulated, by poor digestion, toxicity, tension, or other causes. “This leads to energy literally getting stuck in the head,” says McClellan, a teacher of acupressure and author of “Integrative Acupressure: A Hands-on Guide to Balancing the Body’s Structure and Energy for Health and Healing,” which he’s now updating.

Pressing point Gall Bladder 37, on the outside of the fibula on the lower leg, will help. “This point can draw stagnant energy downward and away from the head, which is the main location of the central nervous system,” he says.

3 of 14 Man with headache (Elenaleonova/Getty Images)

Shoulder tension

When people are stressed or panicked, they typically freeze all motion and elevate their shoulders, says McClellan, noting that many hold tension in this spot and walk around all day with their shoulders pulled up toward their ears. “Blockage in this area disrupts the central nervous system and, in addition to shoulder tension, a person may even experience a loss of mental clarity or memory disruption,” he says. “If there’s congestion in the upper back and shoulders, you want to move that stagnant energy downward.”

Pressing point Small Intestine 9, located just under the teres muscle at the lateral side of the shoulder blade, will help wake up and mobilize chi stuck in the shoulders and release it, he says.

4 of 14 Woman getting shoulder massage (Justin Horrocks/Getty Images)

Neck pain

Technology in the form of laptop computers, tablets and smart phones, has contributed to millions of people burying their heads and curving their necks toward their devices nonstop. If those neck muscles aren’t subsequently stretched, the slung-over neck position can become part of a person’s regular posture, resulting in aches and pains, says McClellan.

“Scrunching up the neck means energy can’t move through those muscles,” he says. “Pressing point Gall Bladder 21, located at the top of the shoulder directly below the earlobe, helps pull energy down away from the neck.”

5 of 14 Woman with neck pain (RunPhoto/Getty Images)

Lower back pain

One of the most frequently cited health complaints, lower back pain has become rampant, thanks to a lifestyle of too much sitting and not enough exercise and movement. McClellan notes that, in Chinese medicine, the lower back correlates with the kidneys’ energy channel. “If the kidney meridian gets thrown off, which often happens because of stress and fatigue, then the nerves tied to the lower back also become involved, and tension is created,” he says.

Pressing point Kidney 27, located slightly below the peak of the medial tip of the collar bone, will help move energy down the back, he says.

6 of 14 Woman with lower back pain (Mark Bowden/Getty Images)

Throat pain

Typically caused by a viral infection, such as the common cold, a sore throat often means hoarseness, dryness, scratchiness, difficulty in swallowing and coughing. Pressing point Conception Vessel 22, located in the hollow just above the sternum, won't get rid of the virus, says McClellan. "But working this point may bring energy into and relax the muscles of the throat." According to Chinese medicine, he explains, the cause of the throat irritation is what's known as rebellious Lung Chi, which has mistakenly traveled upward instead of downward. "Involving Conception Vessel 22 helps make that stuck energy in the throat descend,” he says.

7 of 14 Woman with throat pain (Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Stress

When the body senses danger, the nervous system responds protectively, and we experience what is commonly referred to as stress.

“What you want to do is diffuse the stress, and pressing Kidney 3, located between the peak of the medial malleolus in the foot and the Achilles tendon, is one way to do it,” says McClellan. From a Western medical standpoint, he says, this point in the ankle helps redirect the body from a predominantly flight-or-freeze sympathetic-nervous-system mode to a parasympathetic-dominant one. “The parasympathetic system is all about storing energy and building tissue,” says McClellan. “Therefore, this point, in helping keeping energy within and not mobilized, can help create calmness.”

8 of 14 Stress (Thomas Barwick/Getty Images)

Dizziness

Dizziness or lightheadedness can occur when an allergic reaction, stress or other cause leads to the contraction of the bronchi, the major air passages of the lungs that diverge from the windpipe. And many people experience a “head rush” when they move to a standing position from a seated one too quickly.

Pressing point Kidney 1, found on the pad of the foot halfway between the front of the arch and the metatarsal of the pinkie toe, may help. “In Chinese medicine, this point is referred to as ‘Gushing Spring,’ and applying pressure to it often acts as a stimulant that recharges the body with energy,” says McClellan. He notes that this is also the solar plexus point in foot reflexology.

9 of 14 Spiral staircase (Sami Sarkis/Getty Images)

Nausea

Nausea may be the result of irritation to the stomach lining. “When the stomach receives an item it doesn’t like – the condition can also be caused by pregnancy or adverse reaction to chemotherapy – the body tries to protect itself and expel the contents of the stomach,” says Kyo Mitchell, a licensed acupuncturist and associate professor of acupuncture at Bastyr University, the largest accredited university for natural health studies in the United States.

“The pericardium meridian passes through the stomach, and pressing point Pericardium 6 on that channel soothes that organ and helps move the contents to the intestines,” he says.  Pericardium 6 is located about three finger widths from the wrist toward the elbow crease.

10 of 14 Woman not feeling well (Blasius Erlinger/Getty Images)