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Acupressure Relieves Symptoms in Cancer Survivors

An acupressure point.

Acupressure has been practiced as part of traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Different pressure points along the body are activated by touch, promoting blood flow and releasing tension. According to a new study, self-acupressure also alleviates the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and pain that can plague breast cancer survivors.

In this study, published in JNCI Cancer Spectrum, 288 women were randomly separated into three groups of treatments: relaxing acupressure, stimulating acupressure, and standard care. Relaxing acupressure is typically used to treat sleep problems, while stimulating acupressure is typically used to increase energy. The two techniques differ in which pressure points are touched on the body.

Women in both acupressure groups were taught the relevant techniques and were told to perform the routine once a day over six weeks. Before and after the treatments, participants were questioned concerning changes in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and pain. Moderators—the variable that influences the strength of a relationship between two other variables—included body mass index, age, depressive symptoms, anxiety, sleep, and pain. Any change in these factors served as the mediator—variable that explains the relationship between two variables.

Researchers found that women who received relaxing or stimulating acupressure experienced average improvements in depressive symptoms of 41.5% and 25%, respectively. In contrast, those receiving usual care experienced an average improvement of 7.7%. Women who received both acupressure types experienced reduced anxiety compared with those who received usual care; however, only those in the relaxing acupressure group experienced reduced pain severity, and only those in the stimulating acupressure group experienced reduced pain interference.

No statistically significant moderators of sleep quality, anxiety, or depressive symptoms were identified, but fatigue was found to moderate pain, and age was found to moderate fatigue. In regard to mediators, a small but statistically significant effect was found in changes in depressive symptoms and sleep quality affecting the relationship between relaxing acupressure and usual care on fatigue.

"If you have a person who is fatigued and depressed, it would be the obvious conclusion to use relaxing acupressure. For anxiety or pain, either approach might work," remarked Suzanna M. Zick, ND, MPH, Research Associate Professor of Family Medicine at Michigan Medicine and lead author of the study.

Further research needs to be conducted using neuroimaging to identify the various brain pathways stimulated during acupressure.

For More Information

Zick SM, Sen A, Hassett AL, et al (2019). Impact of self-acupressure on co-occurring symptoms in cancer survivors. JNCI Cancer Spectrum, 4(2). DOI:10.1093/jncics/pky064 

Image courtesy of Mk2010

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