Acupressure Massage for Lower Back Pain

acupressure massage for back painAcupressure massage is a form of traditional Chinese medicine very like acupuncture. The main difference between the two is that acupuncture uses needles whereas this type of treatment uses pressure. Pressure can be applied using the hands, elbows, feet or other objects such as this backnobber trigger point massage tool

The pressure is applied over the same meridians or points described in the acupuncture section.

How does acupressure massage work?

The treatment probably works in a similar way to acupuncture.

  • By activating the pain gate

The first thing we do when you hurt ourselves is rub the sore area. Can you remeber when you knocked your elbow for example? There is a reason we do this and its linked to something called the pain gate. The new sensation blocks some of the discomfort by taking up some of the bandwidth available to the pain signals - this means the brain focusses on the sensation of touch and less on the feeling of pain. In more scientific language you are providing a ‘counter – irritant’ to the painful area. (This is a very simplified explanation of the pain gate theory by the way.)

acupuncture chart
This is an ancient acupuncture chart from the ming dynasty showing these meridians

  •  By causing the release of endorphins

The body has its own fabulous natural pain killers called endorphins; these can be released by the body and cause a reduction or inhibition in pain. For some examples of how effective this natural pain relief can be read this section on pain and how strange it is sometimes.

  • By reducing muscle spasm

Massage also acts in a similar way.By increasing circulation with warmth and friction over the sore area, muscle spasm can be reduced

  • Release blocked energy

Traditional Chinese practitioners believe in the system of meridians or channels of energy, using touch at an acupressure point is thought to unblock trapped energy and restore balance in the body.


  • By increasing a general sense of relaxation and well being through touch.

Not everything can be explained in scientific terms, sometimes the power of healing touch can be profoundly helpful for improving pain and well being. Acupressure massage is similar to myofascial trigger point release which is a western concept that follows similar lines.

Does this type of massage help back pain?

Yes very probably, but likely only for short term relief in much the same way that acupuncture and normal massage is also helpful.


A further update of the Cochrane review in 2015 (4) found very little evidence that massage is helpful for low back pain. Many of the research studies out there are of low or very low quality which means that even when positive results were reported its not possible to trust them as they may be biased.

The authors conclude from the best evidence they could find that massage was helpful for pain - but only on the short term. Long term improvements were not found.Some reports of increased pain post massage were also found but no serious harm was reported for any of the participants in the research they studied..


1.Furlan AD, B. L. I. M. I. E. 2002, "Massage for low-back pain", Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews no. 2.

2.Hsieh, L. L. C., Kuo, C. H., Lee, L. H., Yen, A. M. F., Chien, K. L., & Chen, T. H. H. 2006, "Treatment of low back pain by acupressure and physical therapy: Randomised controlled trial", British Medical Journal, vol. 332, no. 7543, pp. 696-698.

3.  Furlan, A.D., Imamura, M., Dryden, T. & Irvin, E. Massage for low back pain: an updated systematic review within the framework of the Cochrane Back Review Group. Spine 34, 1669-1684 (2009).

4. Furlan AD, Giraldo M, Baskwill A, Irvin E, Imamura M. Massage for low-back pain. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2015, Issue 9

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