Acupressure Helps With Depression, Sleep After Breast Cancer Treatment

A new study suggests that self-administered acupressure may help ease several long-term symptoms in breast cancer survivors.
Acupressure is a technique used in traditional Chinese medicine. It’s similar to acupuncture, but without the needles. It involves the application of pressure with the fingers, thumbs, or a device to specific points on the body.
Researchers at the University of Michigan found that women who had been treated for breast cancer reported improvements in pain, depression, anxiety, and sleep when using acupressure.
Full details of the research were published this month in JNCI Cancer Spectrum .
The new study follows previous research, which found that acupressure helped to reduce fatigue in breast cancer survivors.
Of 424 women with fatigue in the original study, half had at least one other symptom and some had several more.
“It was actually unusual for a woman to have just fatigue. These long-term side effects are a big problem. For some women, they are significant barriers in their life,” study author Suzanna M. Zick, ND, MPH, said in a press release. Zick is research associate professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan and co-director of its integrative medicine program.
The new study looked at the 288 patients who reported multiple symptoms.
Participants were women who had been treated for stage 0 to stage 3 breast cancer with treatment ending at least 12 months prior. All were dealing with persistent fatigue.
The women were randomized into three groups: relaxing acupressure, stimulating acupressure, and usual care.
Relaxing acupressure is generally used to treat insomnia, while stimulating acupressure is used to increase energy. The difference is in which points on the body are stimulated.
Participants received training from acupressure educators taught by a certified acupuncturist.
The women received instructions on how to locate and stimulate acupressure points so they could perform it at home once a day.
Multiple symptom relief
After six weeks of self-administered acupressure, researchers found that relaxing acupressure was much better than stimulating acupressure at improving sleep and symptoms of depression.
Depressive symptoms improved by 41.5 percent in the relaxing acupressure group. That compares with 25 percent in the stimulating acupressure group and 7.7 percent for the usual care group.
Both types of acupressure were found to be more effective than standard care when it came to pain and anxiety.
The researchers are continuing with their work and say suitably controlled randomized trials are warranted.
Currently, they’re using neuroimaging to learn more about the brain pathways involved. They’re also conducting two clinical trials involving an app and a special wand to help patients perform acupressure.