It works by rebalancing or unblocking Qi or Chi — pronounced "chee" —the energy flow created along the pathways that connect the pressure points on the body. The pathways between the points are called meridians, which also connect to internal organs in the body. Pressure points are physical places on the body where chi energy can be accessed and manipulated. Energy imbalances or congested energy flow can create or accentuate pain and impede the body's natural ability to heal itself. Promoting the unobstructed flow of chi improves health and well-being.
“Imagine them like electrical outlets,” says Catherine Guthrie, a journalist and author of the memoir ‘Reclaiming my body from Cancer’. “Each is a place where the underlying meridian’s electrical charge runs close to the surface and is easy to access. Using gentle yet firm pressure on specific points along the energy lines can unblock meridians and in response to the pressure, the brain oozes endorphins, chemicals that muffle pain signals and invite pleasurable feelings. In the absence of pain, muscles relax and blood flows more freely. As tension recedes, the body finds balance.”
Acupressure, Acupuncture and Reflexology are the three most common ‘pressure-based’ alternative therapies used in the West. They might sound wacky, especially to Westerners taught to seek healing in pills and procedures, but as Catherine explains, “Acupressure is not a New Age contrivance. It’s been around for 5,000 years and is based on ancient understandings of the body as both a physical and energetic entity.”
Increasing numbers of Western medical doctors now recognise the benefits of acupressure acupuncture and many offer these therapies within their own practice.
One of the perks of acupressure is that it can be self-administered at any time, in any location. Acupressure is less commonly offered in cancer centers than acupuncture, but practitioners are found throughout the country and books on acupressure and video tutorials on the internet to teach people how to effectively self-apply the therapy. And if you learn how to apply it to yourself it’s free!
Self-administering acupressure is easy. Use your fingers to apply steady, prolonged pressure for at least three minutes per acupoint. Applying pressure in a circular motion may enhance effectiveness for some people. The degree of pressure will vary by acupoint and by person. You will need more pressure than light touch offers, yet not too much pressure to cause bruising or pain. Some points may feel more sensitive than others; apply less pressure to sore or sensitive points. Apply pressure for as long as you want to help alleviate and to control symptoms such as nausea, pain or anxiety.
The Mesothelioma Center shows 3 simple ways you can help to relieve the most common symptoms following chemotherapy treatment:
Acupressure for Reducing Nausea and Vomiting
- Position your hand so that your palm is facing you. Relax your fingers.
- Place the first three fingers of your opposite hand across your wrist, aligning your ring finger with the wrist crease (Figure 1). Next, place your thumb below and slightly under your index finger (Figure 2). The thumb should be centered on the wrist and you will feel two prominent tendons underneath.
- Apply firm pressure to the acupoint for at least three minutes.
- Repeat on the opposite wrist.
Acupressure for Reducing Pain
- Position your hand with your palm facing down. Gently spread your fingers.
- Use your opposite thumb and middle finger to find the slight indentation between the base of your thumb and index finger (see figure).
- Apply firm pressure to the acupoint for five minutes.
- Repeat on the opposite hand.
Acupressure for Reducing Anxiety
- Place your thumb or middle finger between your eyebrows at the root of your nose (see figure).
- Apply gentle pressure to the acupoint for 10 minutes. Less time is fine if you don’t have 10 minutes to spare.
- For added relaxation, focus on your breathing and consider visualizing yourself in a peaceful place, such as in a garden, by a stream or on a beach.
It is an ancient technique involving the use of very fine needles at varying lengths, which are inserted into specific acupressure points in the skin. Although acupuncture involves the use of needles, it is not painful when executed by a skilled acupuncturist. As with Acupressure, acupuncture helps to treat conditions by realigning Qi.
Effects can last varying periods of time after treatment and your acupuncturist will advise.
Despite being an ancient technique, acupuncture is recognized by the National Cancer Institute as an excellent complementary therapy for cancer patients undergoing conventional therapy (surgery, chemotherapy and radiation).
Acupuncture is used to help the following symptoms:
- Pain – when fine needles are inserted in the right acupoints, endorphins – the body’s natural painkillers – are released. These endorphins travel to the spinal cord and brain to relieve pain.
- Nausea and vomiting – while undergoing chemotherapy, many patients experience nausea and vomiting. The anti-emetic effects of acupuncture stem from the increase in hypophyseal secretion of beta-endorphins and ACTH, which helps to inhibit vomiting. Based on a 2006 trial, electro-acupuncture (a form of acupuncture that sends small electric currents to the nerves through the inserted needles) significantly reduced vomiting caused by chemotherapy drugs.
- Better sleep and reduced anxiety - acupuncture induces sleep by calming the body and relaxing the muscles. The inserted needles target muscles to send impulses to the brain causing them to relax. This process helps the patient to sleep through the night.
- Improved appetite – loss of appetite is a common side effect of cancer therapy because it can give you a painfully dry mouth and throat by diminishing saliva production. Acupuncture helps to reduce these side effects and improve appetite. Amazingly it also improves the health of teeth and gums.
Reflexology is a type of massage where pressure is applied to your feet. Although there’s very little scientific proof many people believe that it has helped them.
A reflexologist will gently press your feet to assess your state of health. Reflexologists believe that having your feet pressed and massaged in a systematic way stimulates the corresponding organs in your body. This releases your body’s natural healing powers and restores health, similar to those used in acupressure and acupuncture.
There is some evidence that reflexology can help to:
- relax and cope with stress and anxiety
- help relieve pain
- help lift their mood and give a feeling of well being
Some people think that reflexology can also help:
- boost the immune system
- fight off colds and bacterial infections
- reduce sinus problems
- reduce back problems
- change hormonal imbalances
- overcome infertility
- reduce digestion problems
- reduce arthritic pain
- reduce nerve tingling and numbness from cancer drugs (peripheral neuropathy)
People with cancer should only visit reflexologists who have training or experience treating people with cancer. This is because there are specific points on the feet that they need to avoid, or where they should only apply very gentle pressure.
Before undergoing any form of alternative treatment you must check with your medical team first to ensure the therapy doesn’t conflict with your medication and general health.
If you have tried any of these therapies, please share your experience in the
Facebook Chemotherapy Support Group.