Acupressure — self-care at home

Hand applying pressure to the LI4 point on hand
Pictured: Applying pressure to the LI4, He Gu point on your hand may help you feel relief from pain, anxiety and constipation.

Symptom relief may be at your fingertips

Acupuncture is a medical procedure that dates back at least 1500 years, originating in China. Very fine needles are used to stimulate points along the channel network of muscles, tissues, fascia and vessels throughout the body to treat a variety of symptoms, including pain, nausea and anxiety.

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Join Dr. Rumi on August 15 for our Care Conversations: Acupuncture and East Asian Medicine — Evidence-Based Support for Cancer Patients and Caregivers.

Did you know that the same points can be stimulated by hand, to treat the same conditions? This is called acupressure. You can use your own fingertips or special tools (which are rounded) to provide a few minutes of comfortable pressure to certain points. The stimulation is not as strong as if the point were needled, but it can be very therapeutic nonetheless. For example, many people use wristbands that can be worn for hours at a time to relieve nausea from chemotherapy, pregnancy or motion sickness.

Getting started with self-acupressure

Use your fingers or a designated, rounded tool to provide pressure, never anything pointy or sharp.

A few minutes of medium pressure is usually enough to find some relief. For stubborn symptoms, strong pressure may be used at LI 4 (except during pregnancy) and on the legs. Here are a few points that you and your loved ones can try on yourselves and each other. Points are located on both sides of the body.

  • Yintang. Located on the face in the region of the so-called “third eye,” between the eyes, just above the eyebrows.
  • PC 6, Nei Guan. On the inner side of the forearm, between the two tendons. To locate on the right, hold the first three fingers of the left hand close together. Line up the outer edge of the left ring finger along the main crease between your wrist and the palm of your right hand. Place your three fingers in a line between the tendons – your first finger will land on PC 6.
  • LI 4, He Gu. Do not stimulate this point during pregnancy. In the web of the hand, about halfway up and close to the bone leading to the forefinger. To locate on the right: With the left thumb and forefinger, pinch the web of the right hand. Massage the web in the middle and feel around the whole web of the hand for areas that feel achy, tense, or sore. This point generally tolerates strong massage very well.
  • REN 12, Zhong Wan. On the midline of the abdomen, between right and left. To locate this point, lightly walk the fingers of either hand along the bottom of the ribcage toward the center, the breastbone. Stop when you feel the upside-down “V.” Now, with your other hand, find your belly button. REN 12 is located halfway between these two spots. Another way of stimulating this area is to walk your fingers from the “V” down the midline to the belly button, and massage or give light to moderate pressure to the points that feel good, often an area that feels full. You might burp, feel nausea calm down and bloating pain decrease.
  • Yangming channel on the legs. For constipation. Find the shin bone on the front of your lower leg. Walk your fingers down to about 3-4 inches above your ankle, then slide your fingers just off to the outer edge of the shinbone. Using strong pressure with two or three fingers, pull or massage upward, along the outer edge of the shin bone, almost to the knee. Repeat, only pulling up, not pushing down.

Now that you’ve located a few points, give them a try to seek relief from these symptoms.

Point / Area  Pain Anxiety / Sleep Nausea Constipation Diarrhea
Yintang (face)      
PC 6 (arm)  
LI 4 (hand)  ✔    
REN 12 (abdomen)  
Yangming on legs        

Words of caution about giving or receiving acupressure

  • Avoid pressure on certain areas, such as broken skin, or directly over tumors, lesions or rashes.
  • If you are pregnant, avoid the LI 4/He Gu point. Not all points are suitable during pregnancy. Check with a licensed acupuncturist and/or your gynecologist if you are unsure. 
  • Ask your oncologist if acupressure is right for you. As with any therapy during your cancer experience, whether you are currently in or out of active treatment, it is a good idea to check with your oncologist and learn whether certain areas should be avoided.

To make an acupuncture appointment at Roswell Park, ask your oncology team for a referral.

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