Acupressure for Chronic Low Back Pain Symptoms

In light of increasing reports of addictive and even fatal prescription drug complications, many people are seeking safer alternatives to manage their chronic low back pain. If you’re looking for low-risk ways to ease your spine pain, a 2019 research study delivered promising news: It found that acupressure, a conservative therapy with roots in ancient Chinese medicine, helped reduce pain and fatigue in people with chronic low back pain.

acupressure practitioner using their thumbs on spinal acupointsPictured is a trained in acupressure practitioner using their thumbs to manually stimulate acupoints to relieve pain. Acupressure and acupuncture points are similar. Photo Source:

What Is Acupressure?

Acupressure is a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM is sometimes referred to as alternative medicine, Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), or Complementary and Integrative Medicine. These therapies may be used instead of mainstream, Western treatments (alternative), or they may be used with them (complementary).

Acupressure sounds similar to acupuncture, and they are closely related TCM therapies. During an acupressure treatment, a therapist presses on specific points in your body, called acupressure points or acupoints, to activate your nervous system to release pain-relieving chemicals that restore balance and relax your muscles.

Putting pressure on these acupressure points can help relax or stimulate the body. Common acupressure points include:

  • Yin tang: Located between the eyebrows (commonly called the Third Eye), this point may relieve high blood pressure, headache, nasal congestion, and insomnia.
  • Anmian: Means “peaceful sleep” and is located behind the ear. This point helps to trigger relaxation and ward off insomnia.
  • Heart 7: Located on the inside of the wrist on the pinky side, this point may ease mental and emotional health-related symptoms like anxiety and panic attacks. It also helps relieve cardiac-related disorders, including low or high blood pressure.
  • Spleen 6: Located inside your leg above your ankle, this point may be targeted if you have fatigue or sleep problems.
  • Liver 3: Situated between the big toe and second toe, this point helps stimulate relief from low back pain and stress, and may reduce insomnia and high blood pressure.
  • Du 20: Located at the top center of the head, this point may help reduce sleep problems.
  • Ren 6: Located on the lower abdomen, putting pressure on this point may ease abdominal discomfort and associated problems (eg, diarrhea).
  • Large Intestine 4: Situated in the web between the thumb and index finger, this acupoint may ease neck pain, headaches, and stress.
  • Stomach 36: Stimulated to help ease fatigue, knee pain, and abdominal pain, this acupoint is located at the front of your knee.
  • Kidney 3: Located in the inner ankle, this point may be pressed for a wide range of ailments, including low back pain, sleep problems, and bladder dysfunction.

A Look Inside the 2019 Acupressure Study

The study, which was published in the December 2019 issue of Pain Medicine, measured the effects of acupressure as a treatment for chronic low back pain (chronic low back pain is defined as back pain lasting more than 3 months). The research team assessed acupressure’s ability to combat fatigue, sleep problems, and pain and disability.

The study focused on how well 2 types of self-administered acupressure—relaxing and stimulating—reduced chronic pain symptoms.

Sixty-seven people with moderate levels of fatigue and pain living in Southeastern Michigan participated in the study, which the authors note was a small sample size.

At the start of the study, participants had a 7-day home monitoring period, which included wearing an Actiwatch activity monitor that collected real-time baseline data on physical activity, pain, and fatigue. At the end of the week-long period, eligible participants were randomly put into 1 of 3 treatment groups (all lasting 6 weeks): relaxing acupressure, stimulating acupressure, or usual care.

Participants in the acupressure groups received in-person acupuncture training and weekly phone calls. Participants in the relaxing acupressure group were taught to how to perform acupressure on themselves by targeting acupoints that reduce insomnia. Participants in the stimulating acupressure group were taught how to self-administer acupressure by pressing acupoints that target fatigue.

The participants in the acupressure groups were taught to apply pressure to the specific points by pressing the point using a circular motion for 3 minutes per point. The participants could use their fingers, a pencil eraser, or a wooden tool provided by the study.

acupressure treatment using wooden pegs to manually compress an acupointAn acupressure practitioner uses a wooden peg to manually stimulate an acupoint on a patient's foot. Photo Source:

Participants in the usual care group received only phone calls during the 6 weeks of treatment. At the conclusion of the 6-week treatment period, all participants had an in-person clinic visit and a repeat 7-day home monitoring.

The research team used a series of symptom-specific tools to measure the effects of treatment:

  • The Brief Fatigue Inventory measured fatique and it's relationship to quality of life. The questionnaire consists of 4 main questions about fatigue and includes subquestions about mood, walking ability, work, relationships and enjoyment of life.
  • The Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) measured sleep patterns and sleep quality. The PSQI measures 7 aspects of sleep in adults: sleep quality, time taken to fall asleep, sleep duration, ratio of time in bed to sleep duration, sleep disturbances (eg, pain, restless leg, electronic devices), use of sleep medications, daytime function.
  • The Roland Morris Scale (RMQ) measured back pain and disability. Twenty-four yes/no questions describe everyday activities some peole with back pain, including chronic low back pain, can or cannot do.

Despite the small nature of the study, the authors found the results “promising.”

The relaxing and stimulating acupressure groups showed a pain reduction of 35% and 36%, respectively, which was greater than the usual care group. The stimulating acupressure group also experienced better fatigue improvement (26% reduction) compared to the usual care group. Quality of sleep and disability were comparable among all groups.

Acupressure: Worth Consideration for Chronic Low Back Pain

If you struggle with chronic low back pain and are interested in trying treatments that are lower risk, acupressure may be worth considering. Although this study was small and further research is needed to understand how effective acupressure is on low back pain and other spinal disorders, the results of this research show that this alternative therapy may help reduce your fatigue and pain.

Updated on: 01/29/20
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