Acupressure for Back, Neck and Upper Back Pain

Back and neck pain is common, especially if you spend a lot of time sitting, intently engaged working at a computer, looking down at a tablet and/or glued to a cell phone. Acupressure is related to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM); an alternative, complementary or integrative treatment that can help enhance blood flow to tight muscles and may reduce pain in the cervical, thoracic, lumbar or sacral spine.

Acupressure is similar to acupuncture, and both work to stimulate the nervous system to unblock Qi, the body’s life force or vital energy. Qi (pronounced chee) flows through channels in the body called meridians. Within meridian channels are hundreds of points or acupoints on the body that correspond to specific body systems. A basic principle of TCM is when Qi is disrupted or blocked, symptoms of physical illness and/or mental distress can develop.

acupressure and acupuncture meridians on the back of the bodyMeridian channels transport energy called Qi throughout the body. Healthy Qi flow is vital to physical and mental health. Photo Source:

When most people think of acupuncture, needles come to mind. Acupressure doesn’t involve inserting needles into acupoints. Rather, the acupressure practitioner manually presses a specific acupoint using their fingers, thumbs, elbows, palms or a device. There are many different types of acupressure devices for manual stimulation of an acupoint, including a simple wooden peg. The acupressure treatment may include massage and gentle stretching movements. Some people perform basic acupressure on themselves to help relieve back or neck pain, stress, fatigue and even headaches.

Your doctor may recommend acupressure as part of your back, neck and upper back pain treatment plan. Asian medicine or TCM—whether it is called alternative, complementary or integrative—is gaining greater support in research studies that help support noninvasive and opioid-free medicine.

How to Perform Acupressure

Acupressure may be performed by a qualified acupressure practitioner (see below for information), or you may experience similar benefits by administering it to yourself.

Below are some tips on how to perform acupressure on yourself:

  1. Relax. Take a few deep breaths, relax your jaw and shoulders, find a comfortable position, and close your eyes.
  2. Firmly press on a point (see below for a list of common acupoints) in a circular or up-and-down motion for about 3 minutes at a time.
  3. Repeat the motion as often as you like (there’s no risk in over-activating an acupoint).

Acupoints or Acupressure Points for Back and Neck Pain

Manual acupressure targets specific points—the acupoints—to activate your body’s natural ability to reduce different types of pain and associated symptoms. Below are common acupressure points that may help ease back and neck pain:

  • Spleen 6: Located inside your leg above your ankle, this point may be targeted if you have pelvic pain, fatigue, or sleep problems.
  • Stomach 36: Situated four-fingers-width down from the bottom of your kneecap, this point may help reduce stress and fatigue.
  • Large Intestine 6: Located at the top of the muscle where the thumb and index fingers are joined, this point may help reduce headaches, neck pain, and stress.
  • Pericardium 6: Located three-fingers-width down on the inside of the wrist, putting pressure on this point may ease headaches.
  • Gallbladder 21: Situated halfway between the top of the neck and shoulder, this acupoint may ease neck and shoulder stiffness and pain, and headaches.
  • Triple Energizer 3: Stimulated to help ease upper back pain, headaches, neck stiffness, and shoulder pain, this acupoint is located in the groove between the fourth finger and pinky.
  • Large Intestine 10: Located on the front side of the elbow, this point may be pressed to relieve shoulder pain and neck tightness.

How to Find a Certified Acupressure Practitioner

Because acupressure is a form of TCM, finding a qualified practitioner is different than finding a mainstream, Western medicine clinician.

A good place to start your search is by visiting the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine website, which features a list of all certified TCM providers, including acupressure practitioners. Finding a certified acupressure therapist is important, as it’s often necessary to achieve licensure in many states.

Other places to look include searching for your state’s TCM/Oriental medicine professional associations, which may help connect you to local, qualified practitioners. Some cities are also home to TCM schools or training programs, which are another great source for qualified acupressure therapists.

Community resources, including health food stores, holistic health providers, and spas, may also help connect you to a qualified acupressure practitioner.

Acupressure: A Safe Way to Ease Back and Neck Pain

While new study outcomes support acupressure, more research is necessary to better understand acupressure’s ability to ease back and neck pain, but the safety of acupressure makes it an attractive option to those looking for low-risk treatments. Despite its strong safety profile and label as a Traditional Chinese Medicine therapy, it’s still important to tell your doctor if you’re considering acupressure. Keeping your doctor informed will help prevent any rare interactions with your other treatments.

Updated on: 06/01/20
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