What is Shiatsu?
Shiatsu (which means "finger pressure" in Japanese) is a Japanese massage practice that uses acupressure. Acupressure is based on the Chinese principles of acupuncture. In Shiatsu massage, the therapist applies varying, rhythmic pressure using the fingers on particular parts of the body. The goal is to improve the body's ability to heal itself and to promote overall health.
Though Shiatsu seems like traditional massage in some ways, it is based on the internal flow of a vital energy called "qi" (pronounced "chee"). As described in Chinese medicine, it is believed that qi flows through 20 pathways, or "meridians," which are connected by points (sometimes known as "acupoints" or "acupuncture points"). If qi is blocked, the body can't function at its peak. Shiatsu uses pressure and other techniques to stimulate the acupoints and energy meridians to increase and balance energy flow in the body. Some people consider acupressure to be a form of acupuncture without needles.
While no scientific studies have been done on Shiatsu in women with breast cancer, people using Shiatsu have reported that it helped them with relief of:
- neck, shoulder, and back pain
- muscle tension
What to expect in a typical Shiatsu session
A Shiatsu practitioner will press with his or her fingers, thumbs, and palms on the acupuncture points and energy pathways or meridians on your body. Pressure on these vital points is intended to stretch and open pathways for the body's flow of qi. There are a number of types of Shiatsu, some of which use stretching, special breathing techniques, and meditation.
Shiatsu may be performed on a thick floor mat or on a low massage table. No oils or lotions are used, and both the practitioner and client wear loose comfortable clothing.
Shiatsu practitioner requirements
To learn Shiatsu, practitioners attend a school or training program. These educational programs are different in many ways, including length, quality, and whether or not they are accredited by professional organizations.
In the United States, more than 30 states have laws regulating massage therapy (Shiatsu is usually considered massage therapy). Cities and counties may have laws that apply as well. Because there are many types of Shiatsu, professional Shiatsu organizations have not agreed upon universal standards for Shiatsu practitioners.
To find a qualified Shiatsu practitioner, ask your doctor for recommendations or visit our Finding a Complementary Medicine Practitioner page to find organizations that can recommend practitioners in your area. It's important that the practitioner be experienced in working with people with breast cancer. It's also important that you tell the practitioner about your diagnosis and about any treatments and symptoms you're having.
Research on Shiatsu in people with breast cancer
There is no specific research on Shiatsu and people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Many people who have Shiatsu report they feel more relaxed or can move with greater ease or less pain. But very little scientific research has been done to find out what positive effects Shiatsu can offer.
Some people with breast cancer may find that Shiatsu helps relieve stress, muscle tightness, and certain symptoms of breast cancer and side effects of treatments over the short term, but the evidence is individual. There is no scientific evidence that Shiatsu effectively treats cancer or any other disease.
Important things to consider before trying Shiatsu
If you have breast cancer and are interested in finding a Shiatsu practitioner, ask your surgeon or oncologist for recommendations. It's important that your health care team know that you're considering Shiatsu. It's also important to let the Shiatsu practitioner know about your diagnosis, treatment, and any symptoms you may have.
If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, also keep in mind:
- If you're undergoing chemotherapy treatment, you should not have Shiatsu. People undergoing chemotherapy may have a decrease in red and white blood cells. Shiatsu usually involves strong pressure on your body, so there is a risk of bruising. Some chemotherapy can cause your bones to weaken, and the strong pressure of Shiatsu may cause a fracture.
- If you're undergoing radiation, you should not have Shiatsu. The skin in the treated area may be sore and irritated, and Shiatsu may make it feel worse.
- If you have lymphedema, you also probably shouldn't have Shiatsu because it can make lymphedema worse. Check with your doctor to be sure. Instead of Shiatsu, you may want to look for a physical, occupational, or massage therapist trained and certified in manual lymph drainage to treat your lymphedema. Get more information about finding a lymphedema therapist.