Using Acupressure to Fight Cancer Symptoms, Including Insomnia

Patient Expert

Research suggests there is a link between cancer and sleep problems. If you want to improve your sleep with alternative therapies or prefer methods that don't involve pharmaceuticals, cognitive behavioral therapy is usually the best option.

But a 2015 study suggests that acupressure may help, too.

What is acupressure?

Acupressure is a form of massage therapy that is similar in principle to acupuncture but doesn't involve puncturing the skin.

It is based on the idea that different forms of energy flow through meridians in the body and that, by placing pressure on certain points of the body, blockages in these meridians can be cleared.

The 2015 study recruited 60 cancer patients between 35 and 50 years of age who were currently receiving radiation therapy, chemotherapy or were surgical patients. Sleep quality was measured using the Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index.

Acupressure was administered for three minutes before bed for seven continuous days at each of the following points:

  • Back of the ear
  • The wrist
  • The calf

Before the study began:

  • 11.67 percent were good sleepers
  • 76.66 percent were fairly good sleepers
  • 11.67 percent were bad sleepers

At the end of the study:

  • 83 percent were good sleepers
  • 17 percent were fairly good sleepers

Additional benefits of acupressure

Although this was only a small study, it wasn't the first to reveal the benefits of acupressure. Acupressure has already been found to reduce:

A 2008 study found that an acupressure device worn on the wrist overnight improved sleep in insomnia patients and appeared to stimulate melatonin production.

Recommended acupressure point for cancer-related sleep problems

The Shenmen (HT-7) point can be found where the base of your little finger meets the crease of your wrist[EB1] . Apply pressure for 20 to 30 seconds using the thumb of your other hand to promote sleep.

A 2008 study found that stimulating the HT-7 point on the inner wrist for two weeks improved sleep in 60 percent of patients without cancer and 79 percent of patients with cancer.

Click here for more acupressure points for insomnia.

Recommended acupressure point for cancer-related anxiety

The Extra-1 point is found at the base of your nose, between your eyebrows. [EB2] You can apply gentle pressure to this point using your thumb for up to 10 minutes to help reduce anxiety.

A 2011 study confirmed the sedative effects of acupressure at this point.

Recommended acupressure point for cancer-related nausea

The Neiguan (P-6) point is found below the wrist, on your inner arm. To find it, look at your hand with your fingers pointing up and your palm facing you. Put the first three fingers of your other hand across your wrist and then place your thumb below those fingers.

You should be able to feel two large tendons under your thumb. Press on this point for two to three minutes using a circular motion, then repeat the process on your other wrist to reduce nausea.

A 2015 study found the P-6 point reduced chemotherapy-induced nausea, vomiting and retching.

Recommended acupressure point for cancer-related pain

The Hoku (LI-4) point is found on the back of the hand in the area where the thumb and index finger meet. To find the right spot, squeeze your thumb and index finger together and feel for where the muscle bulges. That is the Hoku point.

Press this area firmly using the thumb and index finger of your other hand and hold the pressure for a few minutes to help reduce pain.

A 2011 study found the LI-4 point reduced the proportion of patients with severe pain associated with bone marrow aspiration and biopsy.

A warning

Although acupressure appears to be beneficial for managing certain symptoms, a study published in 2011 found a significant likelihood of bias within existing randomized control trials.

As pointed out by the American Cancer Society, there are no specific rules governing the providers or practices of alternative treatments — so it's important to speak with your doctor about complementary and alternative methods such as acupressure before relying on them for symptom relief.

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