JANUARY 2019 – According to recent research, acupressure can help relieve combined symptoms of depression, anxiety and pain in breast cancer survivors. A randomized clinical study, published in JNCI Cancer Spectrum, involved 288 patients randomly divided into three groups. One group had usual (standard) care alone, while the other two had usual care plus one of two acupressure combinations. The team had designed two different combinations of points, one labelled “relaxing acupressure” and another called “stimulating acupressure”. Participants were asked to stimulate each acupressure point for 3 minutes daily over 6 weeks. At the end of the six weeks, significant improvements were found. Both combinations helped with anxiety, although the “stimulating acupressure” combination’s effects lasted longer (effects were still found 4 weeks after the daily routine was stopped). In terms of pain the “relaxing acupressure” points were found to help better with pain severity, while the “stimulating acupressure” combination helped more with pain interference. As for depressive symptoms, the “relaxing acupressure” point combination created a stronger effect.
The take-home message: This study shows good evidence that self-acupressure can be a useful tool for all breast cancer survivors dealing with pain, depression, anxiety or a combination of these. The team’s previous research showed that acupressure could also help with sleep quality, fatigue and energy levels. Does it matter which of the ‘acupressure protocols’ you use? First, it’s important to note that this is a large-scale study with standardized point combinations. They don’t customize the treatment to each person. In the clinic, we actually always tailor the point selection to your specific Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis, so results may be even better if you get a practitioner to suggest specific points for you to use on yourself.
A NERDY NOTE: If you look at the graphs in the study, both combinations of points produced improvements compared to the group that did not do the acupressure on themselves. Sometimes this difference wasn’t enough to show a “statistically significant” difference from the control group, but that may be because of the limited number of people in the study. With more participants, it seems likely that the improvements in both groups would reach statistical significance. Another interesting question is how long and how frequently to do the acupressure. The routines would take about 15-20 minutes each day to complete. Would the same result be achieved if the acupressure was done every other day? What if it was done daily for the first few weeks, then tapered down to 3 times per week moving forward, is it possible results could be sustained?
I imagine for some of the participants, doing this self-care routine daily and then being told not to do it for 4 weeks (to see if the results lasted) may be a difficult change. When we do acupuncture in the clinic, however, we often start with more frequent treatments and then taper off. This may be something to explore to see if the improvements could last for longer, with less intensive efforts.
NOTE: The acupressure point combination below was originally designed for breast cancer survivors with anxiety, depression, fatigue, pain and sleep problems, but would likely help other people with similar problems.
- First shake out and relax your body. Get into a comfortable position.
- Then, gently stimulate these points one by one in a circular motion. For points on the arms and legs, do acupressure on both sides of the body, if you have time.
- While stimulating the points, focus all your attention on them and breath deeply, relaxing your body and mind. Spend about 3-5 minutes each point.
- Don’t worry too much about getting the exact right point. Massaging the general area will also help. If an small area is sore, you can focus there, as there is more Qi stagnation in the area.
- If you have an injury or disease active in the area, or are pregnant, consult a TCM practitioner before practicing.
On March 26, 2019, come to our free workshop about Breast Cancer and Traditional Chinese Medicine to learn these acupressure points and use them for yourself.
Reference: Zick et al, Impact of Self-Acupressure on Co-Occurring Symptoms in Cancer Survivors. JNCI Cancer Spectrum, Volume 2, Issue 4, 1 November 2018, pky064. https://doi.org/10.1093/jncics/pky064