Acupressure and MassageAcupressure: What’s the point?

Seriously, the question really is, “Why is acupressure important and how can we use it most effectively within our treatments?” There are many massage therapists and many types of massage. We come out of school having learned two or more different types of massage. Of these, there is usually one that “strikes a chord” within us. This is the type of massage we end up using. Whether it is a form of Swedish massage, deep-tissue massage or sports massage, it forms the basis of the type of treatment we evolve during the course of our time in practice. And most of the time that’s the treatment we continue to use for many years. Some massage practitioners go on to learn more complex or specific forms of massage, such as Rolfing or one of its offshoots, or neuromuscular massage. What do all of these types of massage have in common? All of them, in one way or another, are focused upon and within the musculature. Regardless of the type of massage that’s used, the therapist seeks to identify and release muscular restrictions to offer pain relief, freedom of movement and relaxation to their clients.

Every student of massage therapy is exposed to a fairly broad-based education in the conventional Western approach to the human body that includes anatomy, physiology, myology and neurology. We learn about each part and how the parts form the whole. The approach is based on the belief that by breaking down the whole into its component parts, we can come to understand it. It is called a reductionist approach. It reduces the whole into its parts. It is this approach that has formed the basis of medical and scientific study since the Renaissance. But isn’t the whole truly greater than the sum of its parts, particularly when we are talking about a living human being?

The Eastern or Oriental approach to health care is one that views the body-mind as a whole. It respects the dynamic, interactive quality of the life processes that together comprise the living body. It is a holistic approach, one that has been used for thousands of years. Most of us learn the Eastern perspective in addition to the Western perspective when we’re in massage school. We may have been taught shiatsu, tuina or amma. Our studies of the Oriental healing arts have exposed us to the fundamental principles of Oriental medicine; we’ve learned about the existence of qi, life force and the meridian system through which qi flows. Perhaps we’ve studied the pathways of the meridians (sometimes called channels), both on the surface of the body and within it. We’ve seen how the meridians form a web-like system of interconnections that move through and around the inner organs as they wend their way from the surface of the body to its innermost reaches. So, we have the basics. We may even have studied various acupoints and are acquainted with the types of problems we can treat when we use them. 

It is through using our understanding of the Eastern perspective on health and health care that we can increase our use of massage from one in which we work toward relieving pain, increasing range of motion and reducing stress to one that does all of those things as well as relieve symptoms of common ailments and support the body’s ability to heal itself. With this as our aim, as massage therapists, we are providing a remarkable service to our patients. Our use of medications, even for minor ailments, is at an all time high. We are exposed to all kinds of possible adverse reactions to those medications that can and often do complicate our health status. Through the use of a form of Oriental therapy, we’ve learned how the body’s own healing mechanisms can be tapped into. We’ve learned how we can help our patients heal from all kinds of ailments—colds, coughs, constipation, diarrhea, headaches—the list is endless. Adding acupressure to our massage style is a means by which we can significantly help our patients in a noninvasive, benign way. 

How can we use acupressure to our patients’ best advantage? Must we use a form of Oriental massage to use acupressure? Not really. We can use our preferred massage technique to release restricted muscle and use acupoints at the same time to care for our patients’ health. While using a complete Oriental treatment is best to obtain general energetic balancing for maintaining general health, we can still use the Oriental treatment principles and localized acupoints to focus on a particular ailment. We can use our knowledge of the musculature to palpate and release muscular restrictions, while at the same time opening the channels and treating acupoints to effect a change in the inner organs. Remember, the channels lie within the myofascia; when you release a restricted muscle and its surrounding fascia, you’ve opened the channels contained within that muscle and the qi, the life force that passes through them. 

So, how would this work? Perhaps a patient comes to you complaining about chest and upper back tightness. She may mention she also has a cold that led to a cough, and that she’s had it for some time—but her primary complaint is back soreness. You work on the upper trapezius, levator scapulae, rhomboids, cervical, thoracic and lumbar paraspinal muscles and you find that the patient’s muscles, while tight, are releasing nicely. But you also know that the mid-scapular Bladder points have a direct effect on the respiratory function, as does the area of the lumbar paraspinals at the level of the L2 transverse process. Through simple compression using direct digital pressure of Bladder 13 and Bladder 15 in the mid-scapular area after working on the rhomboids and paraspinal musculature and then Bladder 23 in the lumbar region, your treatment can have a decided effect on your patient’s breathing. You’ve accomplished two things at once. You’ve released her muscles and you’ve opened her breathing. Then, continue your work by releasing pectoralis major and minor and the intercostal muscles in between ribs 2 through 5. Follow this by treating Lung 1 and 2 in the deltopectoral groove and Kidney 24 through 26 at the sternocostal junctions. The release of the musculature of the upper chest will have the effect of supporting your release of the upper back musculature, and your use of acupressure will open and support lung function to help relieve her cough. You can then support the entire process by massaging the anterolateral aspects of the arms, and by doing so, you’ve stimulated Lung energy.

We needn’t always use a full-blown Oriental treatment to provide the benefits it affords. By adding some acupressure into your routine you’ve multiplied the value of your treatment. Your client will be greatly appreciative. Not only will her muscular discomfort be relieved, but she will be on her way to rapidly recovering from her cough. As you transform your treatments to include more and more acupressure, you will have transformed yourself. You will have become a real advocate for your patients’ total health.

Donna Finando, MASSAGE Acupressure articleDonna Finando, L.Ac., L.M.T., has been a practitioner of massage and acupuncture for more than 30 years. Her latest book, Acupoint and Trigger Point Therapy for Babies and Children, A Parent’s Healing Touch (Healing Arts Press, 2008) provides easy-to-use techniques for parents to use to help their children recover from common childhood ailments. She lives and practices on Long Island, New York.