The human body is like a map with key points that, when pressed, can stimulate the body’s natural healing and self-curative abilities. Acupressure, the more than 5,000-year-old healing art of using the thumb and fingers to press on these key locations, is one of the most effective complementary modalities a massage therapist can employ. Acupressure can release muscular tension, promote circulation of both the blood and the body’s vital energy (Qi) and enable the body to relax deeply. By relieving stress, acupressure strengthens the body’s resistance to disease and promotes wellness.
The Qi of the body is produced in the internal organs and circulated through the body in the energy channel system known as meridians (pathways). The meridians are extensions of the 10 internal organs and contain specific acupressure points along each pathway. The points are sensitive to bioelectrical impulses in the body and conduct those impulses readily. Stimulation of these points with pressure releases endorphins. Endorphins are the neurochemicals that close the “gates” of the pain-signaling system. The closing of these gates prevents painful sensations from passing through the spinal cord to the brain.
Acupressure points can be located easily via anatomical landmarks that either lie underneath major muscle groups or near a bony structure. Points are located by proportional measurements called a “cun” — one cun is approximately equal to one thumb’s width. In order to assure accuracy, the width of the recipient’s thumb is the best determination of this measurement. After locating the point, the therapist stimulates it by pressing directly on the muscular knot of tension or directly into the hollow or indentation near the bone with the thumb or the fingers. Points that are painful when pressed are considered to be areas where excessive energy has accumulated. Points that welcome touch are considered to be areas of energy deficiency. Points are typically addressed bilaterally.
John Hickey, author of the Institute for Integrative Healthcare’s Shiatsu Anma Therapy program, gives the following instruction for applying specific pressing techniques to acupressure points:
“Ordinary pressure is considered tonifying to the point and can be used in excess or deficient energy conditions. Locate the point and with moderate pressure, gradually press directly into the point with the thumb at a 90-degree angle from the surface of the skin, hold for a few seconds and then release, gradually. To address points that feel painful or excessive, perform a stronger more dispersing technique using the tip of the thumb and applying a deeper, stronger pressure to break up the excessive and stagnant energy in the point. Hold the point until the excess energy is released. To address energy deficient points, and to encourage more Qi and blood to the area, use the flat part of the thumb, relax the hands, and use moderate pressure on the point to draw energy into the area.”
The Chinese names (translated into English) assigned to the acupressure points on the meridians can serve as a powerful meditation tool and can help establish the intention of your work. By pressing a point, silently repeating its name, breathing deeply and visualizing the point’s benefit, both you and your client can realize the full potential power held in each point.
There are hundreds of effective acupressure points that influence the functioning of the body. Ten of the most common and useful points to facilitate health are described below:
1. Lung 1, “Central Treasury”
Location: On the chest, 6 cun lateral from the midline, at the level of the first intercostal space, 1 cun below the lateral extremity of the clavicle.
- This is the collecting point for all the energy of the lungs.
- Helps the lung Qi to descend downward in the body to connect with the kidneys.
- Supports the lungs.
- Addresses acute coughs, asthma and a tight chest.
- Alleviates pain in the shoulder and upper back.
2. Large Intestine 4, “Union Valley”
Location: In the dorsal web space, between the first and second metacarpal bones, approximately level with the midpoint of the second metacarpal bone. Also – on the highest point of the bulge formed when the thumb is adducted.
- This is the command point for the face, mouth and head.
- Treats sinus congestion, allergies, headaches, sore throat, fever and toothaches.
- Strengthens the body’s defensive Qi and is helpful for colds, sneezing, runny nose and sore eyes.
- Alleviates pain in the shoulder and arm.
- Contraindicated during pregnancy.
3. Kidney 1, “Gushing Spring”
Location: On the sole of the foot, between the second and third metatarsal bones, one-third the distance from the webs of the toes to the heel.
- This is a very important point for grounding, connecting with the earth and rooting the energy downward.
- Helpful to calm someone who is in a disturbed state of restlessness or shock.
- Useful for headaches, anxiety, hypertension, diarrhea and insomnia.
4. Bladder 23, “Back Shu Point of the Kidney” or “Sea of Vitality”
Location: 1.5 cun lateral to the lower border of the spinous process of the second lumbar vertebrae, on the quadratus lumborum muscle.
- This point is a powerful place to strengthen both the yin and yang kidney energy.
- Helps strengthen the lower back and knees.
- Builds core energy.
- Helps the body replenish during times of personal transformation.
- Alleviates low back pain and fatigue.
- Fortifies the digestive organs and the immune system.
5. Liver 3, “Great Surge”
Location: On the dorsum of the foot, between the first and second metatarsal bones, approximately 2 cun superior to the web margin.
- This point is the source point of the liver meridian.
- This is a thoroughfare for Qi activity.
- Releases pent up energy that causes anxiety, anger, irritability, tension headaches, depression and PMS.
- Liberates energy that is caged.
- Smoothes energy that is aggressive and edgy.
- Nourishes tendons and ligaments by alleviating tightness, tension and spasms.
- Particularly effective in conjunction with Large Intestine 4.
6. Gallbladder 30, “Jumping Circle” or “Jumping Round”
Location: In the gluteal region, 1/3 the way along a line drawn from the greater trochanter to the inferior end of the sacrum.
- Benefits the low back and all leg joints.
- Strengthens and comforts the low back and leg.
- Alleviates sciatic pain, hip pain and rheumatism.
- Relaxes tendons and restores joint mobility.
7. Heart 7, “Spirit Gate” or “Mind Door”
Location: On the transverse crease of the wrist, in the depression on the radial side of the insertion of the tendon of flexor carpi ulnaris into the pisiform bone.
- Calms the mind when overactive thinking is the culprit.
- Relieves insomnia due to overexcitement.
- Relaxes and eases anxiety.
- Reduces heart palpitations by regulating the heart and strengthening the spirit.
8. Small Intestine 11, “Celestial Gathering”
Location: In the depression of the scapula half way between the left and right borders of the scapula and 1/3 the distance down from the spine of the scapula and the inferior angle of the scapula.
- Alleviates soreness of the shoulder and back.
- Reduces rigidity of the neck.
- Helps pain and numbness in the arm.
- Helps gather scattered or manic Qi in the body
- Sorts the real from the dream and the authentic from the inauthentic.
9. Spleen 6, “Three Yin Intersection”
Location: Three cun directly above the tip of the medial malleolus, less than a finger’s width posterior to the border of the tibia.
- This is the meeting point of the three yin channels (spleen, kidney and liver).
- Important for treatment of all gynecological, sexual, urinary, digestive and emotional imbalances.
- Nourishes and builds the blood.
- Use in the treatment of anxiety, insomnia, headaches, menstrual cramps, abdominal distention/pain and diabetes.
- Contraindicated during pregnancy.
10. Stomach 36, “Leg Three Miles”
Location: Three cun below the inferior border of the patella, one finger width lateral to the edge of the tibia. There is a small notch next to the tibia at this point.
- Ancient physicians said working on this point could treat all diseases.
- Chinese foot soldiers used to halt every three miles and massage Stomach 36 for renewed energy.
- Restores and builds energy in the stomach and spleen.
- Strengthens the stomach and improves digestion.
- Indicated for all digestive disturbances including gas, bloating, nausea, diarrhea and constipation.
- Alleviates abdominal pain, distention, coldness and numbness in the legs.
The best way to learn more about these points is to begin practicing on yourself. Daily practice will result in noticing a slight pulse at the point. This pulsation is a good sign that circulation has increased. Start adding some of these highly effective points in with your massage routine, explaining to your clients what you are doing and why. Take care to avoid those points that are contraindicated during pregnancy on an expectant mother. The body’s vital energies concentrate inward during a treatment, so to maximize healing, be sure to keep your clients warm and advise them to stay warm following a session.
The body has many more effective acupressure points that can address different imbalances. There are specific points along either side of the spine which reflexively influence every organ in the body. Watch for a follow up article addressing these powerful points on the bladder meridian.
1. Carey, Donna and de Muynck, Marjorie. Acutonics: There’s No Place Like Ohm, Sound Healing, Oriental Medicine and the Cosmic Mysteries, Devachan Press, 2002.
2. Gach, Michale Reed. Acupressure’s Potent Points, Bantam Books, 1990.
3. Hickey, John. Shiatsu Anma Therapy, Institute for Integrative Healthcare Studies, 2005.
4. Lundberg, Paul. The Book of Shiatsu, Simon and Schuster, 2003.
5. Tedeschi, Marc. Essential Anatomy for Healing and Martial Arts, Weatherhill, 2000.
6. Xu, Xiangcai. Chinese Tui Na Massage, YMAA Publication Center, 2002.