When you have localized pain, what do you do? You reach for it. Often without conscious thought, your hand goes to the area of discomfort and massages it. Understanding the basics of acupressure could make this mindless self-massage even more beneficial, helping you to relax and even manage chronic pain.

Acupressure has its foundation in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), where it has been in use for over 2,000 years. It’s a method of activating the body’s self-healing mechanisms to treat illness and alleviate pain. Like acupuncture, which uses tiny needles, acupressure stimulates the body at certain meridians, or pressure points.

“The Chinese medical model discovered that the human body is crisscrossed by these invisible lines of energy,” explains Dr. Steve Moreau, DOM, AP, a licensed acupuncturist and instructor at the Florida College of Integrative Medicine. “TCM theory also holds that each meridian pathway is connected to a specific organ. It’s this interconnection of specific points that allows acupressure to work.”

Is it effective? The research says yes. One review found acupressure to be effective at reducing pain in nine of ten studies. With a 2,000-year-old track record, this method of pain management has certainly stood the test of time.

When using acupressure to apply self-massage, it’s important that you be patient and consistent. Improvements may not be immediate, but regular massage can reduce pain as well as the likelihood of recurrences.

When using acupressure:

  • Set aside several minutes.
  • Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
  • Relax, close your eyes, and breathe deeply.
  • Use firm, deep pressure in a small rotating or
    up-and-down movement.

Neck and shoulder pain are often the result of stress and can lead to what are commonly referred to as tension headaches. Dr. Moreau says there are several pressure points to use in the relief of shoulder pain, beginning with one of the most commonly used points.

“The first and easiest to find is between the web of the thumb and the first finger,” he says.

  1. Press with a firm pressure until you feel a mild
  2. Hold for five seconds.
  3. Release and repeat three more times.

There are two main pressure points that can help with lower back pain, says Moreau. The first is on your waist:

  1. Stand up and lightly grab your waist with both
    hands so that your thumbs wrap around your back.
  2. With your thumbs in place, apply a circular
    motion using firm pressure for a count of five seconds.
  3. Repeat this three times.

Moreau says you can also find a pressure point to relieve low back pain about midway up your calf muscle:

  1. Using the same circular motion and pressure,
    hold for five seconds.
  2. Release and repeat two more times.

The first point for relieving sinus pressure and pain is right between your eyebrows, says Moreau. He suggests using your index finger or thumb to apply pressure here using a circular motion for 5 seconds.

The second point is at your temples; use the same circular motion as before.

A third option is to trace your fingers from your temples to either side of your nostrils. Using a circular motion, apply pressure here for five seconds.

Moreau recommends following this pressure technique for each of the pressure points, keeping the pressure firm but not painful.

These practices can be done several times each day, but Moreau says you should give your body a break if any points are sore to the touch. He recommends starting with light pressure and gradually moving to a more firm touch.

Feelings of pain like those listed above are often caused by tension and stress. It’s important to relax and reduce stressors in your life for these approaches to have the most impact. If you find relaxing and simultaneous self-massage difficult, you can always ask for help from a friend or family member.