Acupressure and Arthritis: Ancient Healing to Relieve Pain

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On Thursday July 7, 2000, had an exclusive interview with Michael Reed Gach, Ph.D., founder of the Acupressure Institute in Berkeley, California. Dr. Gach is one of the foremost experts on acupressure and has taught over 100,000 people in the past 25 years. He is also the author of several books and videotapes, including Arthritis Relief at your Fingertips. Here’s what he had to say: What is acupressure?

Dr. Gach: Acupressure was in use over 5000 years ago in ancient China. The acupressure system was discovered through instinct. When you have a pressure or pain, it’s natural to hold the area. For example, when you have a headache, you rub your temples to relieve the pain. Over time people recorded what these places on the body were so that over the centuries, acupressure became more and more finely developed.

Acupressure integrates the mind and body, tapping into information from the East and the West, so it’s very accessible and practical. Acupressure uses the same points and principles as acupuncture but uses the hands instead of needles. By applying light to firm pressure on certain healing acupressure points on the body, the pressure releases stress, tension and pain, and increases the circulation. How does acupressure work?

Dr. Gach: There is a very specific system of electrical energy in the human body that circulates in very specific patterns through channels called meridians. Acupressure points are the specific sites where this system of energy gets blocked. So this is one of the theories of how acupressure works. When you release the point on the meridian it enables the transmission of human electrical energy to move through the body and according to Traditional Chinese Medicine that heals the areas where the pathway goes. The pathways run all over the body so it can potentially heal everything.

All of the systems of the body are nourished by the life force that the Chinese call Chi, which also circulates through the meridians. Chi is a force used in China through the martial arts to protect a person. It is also used in the healing arts to heal a person. In addition, Chi can be used creatively to do whatever you want to do in your life.

Chi also circulates through the body in very specific patterns and travels internally into the glands, nerves and internal organs to nourish them. When the Chi is blocked at an acupressure point it can hamper or inhibit the function of those glands, nerves or organs. What are acupressure points?

Dr. Gach: The acupressure points are the gateways for enabling this energy to move through your body. When you hold the points and press and massage them, in a way it increases the circulation and thus your body gets more nourishment. It actually reinforces the body’s natural mechanism known as homeostasis. What conditions is acupressure used for?

Dr. Gach: Acupressure is used for any condition either caused by stress and tension or worsened by it. Stress could be emotional stress, or anxiety and frustration. So, for instance, if you have a joint or a muscle pain, you may find that stress exacerbates the problem. By holding the points acupressure releases the tension locally and thus increases the circulation, which will enable your body to take care of the problem.

Acupressure puts you in harmony and tune with yourself. There are specific acupressure points for many common ailments such as asthma, menstrual cramps, digestive problems and so on. How does acupressure help arthritis?

Dr. Gach: Acupressure relieves arthritic pain in a number of ways. First of all, when you hold an acupressure point it enables increased energy to move through the body and it’s this energy that can heal the joints and relieve pain.

Secondly, and connected to this, is the release of endorphins. When you hold acupressure points neurochemicals are released called endorphins that doctors know relieve pain. These are natural chemicals that the body manufactures, and acupressure allows them to circulate through the body.

The third way that acupressure relieves pain is by releasing stress and tension. This increases circulation and enables the person to be relaxed instead of stressing against their arthritic pain. By being more relaxed you can cope better with it, breathe easier, and have more energy in your daily life. Which symptoms of arthritis does it help the most?

Dr. Gach: The first symptom is pain, which we just spoke about. The second is inflammation, and this is where if a person has inflammation the points should be pressed lightly and gently and held for longer periods of time, meaning a couple of minutes with just touch instead of pressure. So you don’t need to press very hard to have an effect?

Dr. Gach: No, especially if you’re sensitive and sore. many sessions do people need to have before they feel any improvements?

Dr. Gach: There are various levels of progress. When you’re dealing with arthritis it’s important to think of working on yourself, of getting acupressure on a daily basis, in the long-term. If you ‘re thinking about treating yourself briefly and then being done with it, that is not realistic. If you think that you’re going to be pressing some buttons and after doing it three times you’re going to be cured, that is not the case. The way acupressure works with arthritis is by applying it on a daily regular basis basically for the rest of your life. You don’t go on a diet and then say, I can go on this diet for three days and then I can eat any thing I want. It doesn’t work that way. There are many different types of arthritis. Do they all respond equally well to acupressure treatment?

Dr. Gach: What I’ve found is that people who exercise and breathe deeply and apply acupressure and/or yoga are able to manage their arthritic pain. And some forms of arthritis respond more quickly than others. Fibromyalgia, a soft tissue condition, responds very quickly, and in several applications you can get relief. Osteoarthritis also responds very well, but this needs to be maintained by doing acupressure on a regular basis. For that reason, I recommend people learn how to do it for themselves to be cost effective and that’s why I focused my arthritis book, Arthritis Relief at Your Fingertips, on self-treatment. 80% of all the practical information in the book is self-care.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a much more difficult type of arthritis to work with since there are flares and remissions. A person with RA may find at times great relief and at other times there may be flare-ups in which they have to take a rest and take a break.

I think that the more a person applies acupressure point stimulation the better off they are, whatever form or arthritis they have, unless of course they have a flare up. I found that out from an informal study at an adult community and senior center in the (San Francisco) Bay area. I did surveys and found that people who came to my classes on a regular basis and applied acupressure to themselves throughout the day simply because they enjoyed how they felt, got the best results. How many times a day do you recommend arthritis patients practice on themselves?

Dr. Gach: I recommend they press the acupressure points at least 3 times a day for 10- 15 minutes.

It’s very easy and convenient because you can be anywhere. However, you will get the best results, if you’re in a quiet, safe, nurturing, private environment so that you can really focus on your own healing. That means closing your eyes, breathing deeply, and paying attention to your body as you hold the points. How can I use acupressure by myself? Is there any risk involved if I’m not on the correct acupressure point?

Dr. Gach: Acupressure is completely safe even if you’re off the point. It’s important to use common sense. For example, if you have an injury or an inflammation that is going to become painful by applying pressure, then you need to listen to those signals.

You can also learn acupressure with the help of detailed instructional information. That’s why I wrote the books and made videos so people can learn how to do it for themselves. I make sure what I’m talking about is clear so people can see and understand how to do acupressure for themselves. Are there different styles of acupressure?

Dr. Gach: There are many major styles of acupressure that stimulate the points in different ways. Shiatsu for example, is one and there are many different forms of shiatsu. In another style called Jin Shin, points can also be held lightly with the fingertips, and at least 2 points can be held at once. For chronic pain the Jin Shin style is probably the best of all the styles. What’s the benefit of using acupressure instead of acupuncture?

Dr. Gach: Both types of practitioners stimulate the same points. The difference certainly is how it feels, needles versus touch. Acupuncture point stimulation is very strong. I recommend it for the treatment of disease, whereas I would use acupressure for relieving common ailments, reducing stress and increasing circulation. I prefer acupressure because it feels great. Also, acupressure has other benefits as it increases awareness, increases energy, creativity, alertness, productivity – all those things.

Another advantage is the human contact that touching the specific points brings about. When you touch someone with purpose they can feel it and when you are touching the acupressure points in a healing manner there’s tremendous benefits and feelings that come about. Many people who were my clients wanted to experience life more; they weren’t just coming for relief of common ailments. Often they came for a headache, but they had transformative experiences; they were able to feel more and it became a form of therapy for them that was both pleasurable and therapeutic at the same time.

It’s really great that we have both methods for people to choose from. I think if somebody has arthritis, rheumatism or chronic illness, I would recommend they receive both because they play off each other. Acupressure and acupuncture both open up the points in different ways so that the amount of healing would escalate, it would be cumulative. How can I find an acupressure practitioner?

Dr. Gach: For national referrals, you can contact the American Oriental Bodywork Therapy Association (AOBTA). If some one is looking for a practitioner in their area they can call the national office or e-mail what area they are from to get names of practitioners close to them. Email or phone 609-782-1616.

For referrals in the San Francisco Bay Area you can contact the Acupressure Institute (see below for information) How can I find out more about arthritis and acupressure?

You can get a free Hands On Healthcare catalog from the Acupressure Institute that contains many self-care books, healing books such as Acupressure’s Potent Points, and instructional audio and video tapes, as well as other aides such as magnets. Send an email to: with your regular mailing address to get the catalog.

Arthritis Relief at Your Fingertips is only available directly from the Acupressure Institute. To contact them, call l -800-442-2232

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