Acupressure significantly reduced heart rate among subjects who suffered a stroke, whereas placebo acupressure did not, according to recent research.

The study, “Cardiovascular benefits of acupressure (Jin Shin) following stroke,” involved 13 subjects who experienced a stroke at least 19 months earlier. Inclusion criteria were a unilateral stroke resulting in persistent deficits, as well as a difference in temperature of forearm skin-surface on the subject’s affected side as compared to his or her unaffected side.

Participants were randomly assigned to the Jin Shin acupressure group or the placebo acupressure group. Those in both groups experienced an eight-week intervention phase, with both the sham and authentic acupressure sessions lasting a total of 40 minutes, once per week.

This intervention phase was followed by an eight-week “washout” phase, after which participants switched groups, so all of them experienced a phase of authentic acupressure and a phase of placebo acupressure by the end of the study.

Blood pressure and heart rate were the two main outcomes measured by researchers in this study. In both the Jin Shin group and placebo group, blood pressure and heart rate were measured at baseline, before each of the eight sessions. This initial measurement occurred once the subjects were supine and had been resting for five minutes. These same measurements were then repeated every five minutes throughout each session, using an automatic vital-signs monitor.

Results of the research revealed that, across the eight-session treatment phase, active acupressure significantly reduced heart rate among subjects. In the placebo group, reductions in heart rate were not significant. In addition, the active acupressure was found to reduce heart rate faster than placebo acupressure, but only in the last four sessions of the eight-session phase.

In general, there was no significant difference in blood pressure from start to finish of the study for either the active acupressure group or the placebo acupressure group. Researchers speculate this may be due to the fact that nearly 70 percent of the subjects involved in this study were taking medication for hypertension.

“Active acupressure treatment in chronic stroke patients reduced heart rate significantly more and significantly faster than did placebo acupressure treatment,” state the study’s authors. “Thus, while both treatment types induced a typical relaxation response, perhaps due to being supine, the relaxation response associated with active treatment was above and beyond that seen during placebo treatment.”

Authors: Kristina L. McFadden and Theresa D. Hernández.

Sources: Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Colorado at Boulder. Originally published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine (2010) 18: 42-48.