Comfort Measures in Labor: Acupressure
As with massage, acupressure uses touch to relax and relieve pain. Some people find great benefit from acupressure, however similar to TENS, others may find it unhelpful and even annoying.
Many of us have practiced acpressure instinctively without even realizing. For example, when you get a tension headache, you most likely press your fingers to your temple and massage. This is an acupressure point that many of us use.
What is Acupressure?
Acupressure and acupuncture come from the same theory in traditional Chinese medicine. Acupressure is practiced by using pressure from a finger or massage tool in specific sites while acupuncture uses needles inserted just under the skin. This technique is included in shiatsu massage and reflexology.
The theory behind acupressure states that every person’s life force, qi or chi, flows throughout the body via routes called meridians. When one of these meridians is blocked or out of balance, a person may develop pain or become sick. Applying pressure to acupoints, is one way of releasing the blockage and allowing the qi to flow more freely, thus improving a person’s health or comfort.
While there is no reported science to back up the claims of the theory behind acupressure, there have been many studies showing that acupressure may be beneficial. This study from 2006, found that “acupressure is more effective in alleviating low back pain than physical therapy in terms of pain scores, functional status, and disability, say the authors. The effect was not only seen in the short term, but lasted for six months.“
According to this excellent article from The Atlantic, the positive results associated with acupressure may be related to the gate control theory. This is the theory behind the use of TENS which I wrote about here. They also mentioned that acupressure has been shown to increase production of endorphins, the body’s natural pain relievers.
“As [Dr. Leena] Mathews points out, acupuncture is a ‘retrospective science, going on for 3,000 years. We know it works, we just don’t know why. It’s very hard to translate into Western language.’ Still, it should be possible to do so, and we seem to have made some progress. Hopefully more researchers asking the right questions, and coming up with clever new techniques to address them, will help elucidate the mechanisms and unify the theories.” ~ Alice G. Walton (A Healthy Poke: Demystifying the Science Behind Acupuncture)
What are some acupressure points?
There are several acupressure points that can offer relief in labor. I highly recommend this article at Modern Reflexology for a longer list and more explanation of each point. I will admit the article gets a little more esoteric that I prefer but it does offer some good information regarding each point. To avoid rewriting their article, here is a more concise list of some of the more popular points used in labor.
- B48 (Bladder 48) – used for back pain
- B28 (Bladder 28) – helps relieve lower back and sacral pain
- Sp6 (Spleen 6) – stimulates contractions (should not be used prior to labor)
- GB21 (Gallbladder 21) – great for shoulder and neck pain, especially for mothers who hold their tension in their shoulders and neck
- K1 (Kidney 1) – helps relieve stress and anxiety
- K3 (Kidney 3) – used for labor pain probably via the gate control theory
- UB60 (Urinary Bladder 60) – used in transition, increases blood flow and helps relieve lumbar pain
There are some illnesses and conditions that require caution when practicing. As with massage, there is concern that certain points can induce labor. It is advisable to check with your care provider before performing any acupressure, especially when pregnant.
I have had acupuncture and reflexology in the past. While I’m not sold on acupuncture, both it & reflexology are incredibly relaxing. I personally prefer acupressure through massage or reflexology because it is less invasive and typically much less expensive. Reflexology may be one of the most relaxing experiences I have ever experienced. I highly recommend pregnant women consider finding someone who is trained in reflexology during pregnancy, especially for those who experience foot and ankle swelling during pregnancy.
Acupressure has been used for thousands of years as a way of controlling pain. The traditional theory behind the practice may not be supported by science but there has been studies showing there is some benefits from incorporating acupressure into your tool bag of comfort measures in labor.
If you are in the Denton, TX area and are interested in hiring a doula for your birth experience, contact me today to schedule a free consultation. If you are interested in learning about more comfort measures in labor, check out my Comfort Measures page.
Feature Image: This work, “Comfort Measures in Labor: Acupressure,” is a derivative of “Sport Massage at The Foot Shop” by sellyourseoul used under CC BY 2.0 This work is licensed under CC BY 2.0 by Pillar of Strength Doula Services
Acupoints: Acupuncture chart from Shisi jing fahui (Expression of the Fourteen Meridians) written by Hua Shou (fl. 1340s, Ming dynasty). Japanese reprint by Suharaya Heisuke (Edo, 1. year Kyōhō = 1716). Public Domain