Where Are Your Pressure Points—And How Can You Use Them?

<p>ondacaracola photography / getty images</p>

ondacaracola photography / getty images

Medically reviewed by Arno Kroner, DAOM

Pressure points refer to specific points on the body that are thought to provide certain health benefits when massaged.

Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) believe you can massage different pressure points to provide provide pain relief, reduce tension, speed up the healing process, and more. Forms of complementary and alternative medicine like reflexology and acupressure often use pressure points when applying therapies.

There are many pressure points located throughout the body, and some research supports their potential benefits. You can massage some of your own pressure points at home, or see a specialist to target these areas.

What Are Pressure Points?

In the practice of reflexology, pressure points refer to points on the hands and feet that “map onto” other parts of the body, such as internal organs or a larger area like the back or chest. For example, one small point on the foot may correspond to the lungs, while another corresponds to the liver.

Reflexology practitioners believe applying a certain amount of pressure to a particular point can provide relief and promote healing in the region of the body the point corresponds to.

Pressure points, also known as acupoints, are also often used in acupuncture and acupressure—which is a practice similar to acupuncture done without needles. In these practices, pressure points are thought to be sites where “Qi,” or vital energy, is able to flow and enter and exit the body.

Traditional Chinese medical practitioners and other people who practice acupressure believe massaging or pressing down on pressure points can improve the flow of Qi throughout the body.

Some people also use self-massage on pressure points to relieve pain, reduce stress, and more.

How Many Pressure Points Are In the Human Body?

There are 361 standardized acupoints for acupuncture and acupressure. However, there may be more pressure points than those currently identified. Some researchers argue there are over 400 acupoints, while others think there may be thousands.

In traditional Chinese medicine, pressure points are located along one of 12 principal meridians, or “passageways,” in the body. Some people believe blockages can form along these meridians, which can halt or disrupt your flow of energy and cause health problems. By massaging pressure points, you may be able to remove the "blockage" and facilitate the flow.

Where Are Pressure Points?

There are hundreds of pressure points in the human body, each of which is believed to correspond to a particular bodily region, organ, function, or purpose. Here are just a few of the most commonly used pressure points:

  • SP-6 (Sanyinjiao): Located four finger-widths above the ankle bone on the inside of the lower leg, this point is often used to relieve dysmenorrhea (painful periods and menstrual cramps).

  • P-6 (Neiguan): Also called Pericardium-6, this point is located on the inner forearm, three finger-widths away from the wrist. It’s typically stimulated to relieve nausea and prevent vomiting.

  • ST-25 (Tianshu): This point lies three finger-widths to the side of the belly button, and is used to relieve and manage constipation.

  • ST-36 (Zusanli): This point is located one hand-width under the knee on the outside lower leg. It's thought to improve endurance and has been shown to help treat physiological conditions like stroke, pain, and hypertension.

  • LI-4 (Hegu): Also called “Union Valley,” this popular pressure point on the “meaty” part of the hand between the forefinger and thumb is used to relieve migraines and tension headaches. It can also be used to induce labor.

  • LV-3 (Taichong): Sometimes called the “Great Surge,” this point on the forefoot in the area between the big toe and the next toe is used to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and relieve anger and irritability.

  • Ren-6 (Qihai): This acupoint located about two inches below the belly button is used for tonification, a process of balancing Qi. It is also used to relieve constipation, gas, and bloating.

  • EX-HN3 (Yintang): Also known as the “third eye” acupoint, located between the eyebrows, Yintang is massaged to help with symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as sinus headaches and pressure.

  • LI-20 (Yingxiang): Located in the folds on either side of the nose, this acupoint may help to relieve sinus pressure and nasal congestion.

How to Use Pressure Points

You can visit a reflexologist or acupuncturist who specializes in acupressure to target and massage your pressure points. If you’d like to massage your own pressure points at home, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Get in a comfortable position. Take a few deep breaths and relax your muscles.

  • Use your thumb to press down on the pressure point for a few seconds at a time. You can apply ongoing pressure or massage the point with small, circular strokes.

  • Apply firm pressure, but don’t press down too hard. Stop right away if you feel pain.

  • Repeat this several times or until you find relief.

  • For firmer, more consistent pressure, you can also try an acupressure device. Available options include acupressure mats, wristbands, massage tools, and rollers.

Possible Benefits of Using Pressure Points

Reflexology and acupressure are meant to help relieve and manage the symptoms of a wide variety of health conditions. Many people use these therapies to reduce pain related to conditions, including low back pain, tension headaches, chronic migraines, and menstrual cramps. Massaging pressure points may also help relieve labor pain before childbirth.

Some other common reasons people target pressure points are to relieve symptoms like:

  • Nasal congestion

  • Nausea and vomiting, and motion sickness

  • Morning sickness

  • Cancer-related fatigue

  • Burning and prickling sensations caused by multiple sclerosis (MS)

  • Constipation, gas, and bloating

  • Insomnia

  • Shortness of breath

  • Stress, tension, and anxiety

  • Depression

If you are interested in using pressure points to help treat or manage a specific condition, talk to your healthcare provider about whether the practice may be safe and effective for you. They may also be able to recommend a reputable acupressure or reflexology practitioner.

Do Pressure Points Work?

The available clinical evidence about the effectiveness of pressure point massage is somewhat conflicting. Some studies have found pressure points may be helpful in managing certain symptoms, while others have not. However, research is ongoing.

Acupressure is often most effective when used as a complementary therapy alongside other treatments.

Some recent studies about the clinical effectiveness of acupressure, reflexology, and pressure point self-massage for certain conditions include:

  • A review of research found acupuncture and acupressure were effective as adjunctive treatments for people with chronic migraines. Participants who underwent acupuncture or acupressure saw a reduction in the number and severity of migraines they experienced over the course of several months. They also didn’t need to use as many painkillers to reduce their symptoms.

  • One study indicated breast cancer patients who received acupressure and auricular (ear) acupressure experienced less chemotherapy-related fatigue and insomnia.

  • A research analysis found people who received pressure point massages on a regular basis had lower self-reported pain and anxiety scores.

A Quick Review

Pressure points are specific points in the body that are thought to correspond to other parts of the body, and may offer relief when massaged. Pressure point massage is most often used in forms of complementary and alternative medicine such as traditional Chinese medicine, reflexology, and acupressure.

Research about the benefits of acupressure is limited, and the results of clinical studies on pressure points are mixed. However, there is some evidence that using pressure points can help with pain, nausea, anxiety, and insomnia, among other conditions.

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