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Acupressure Reduces Fatigue in Diagnosed Women

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A small study has found that acupressure can help relieve long-term fatigue in women who’ve been treated for breast cancer.

The research was published online on July 7, 2016 by the journal JAMA Oncology. Read the abstract of “Investigation of 2 Types of Self-administered Acupressure for Persistent Cancer-Related Fatigue in Breast Cancer Survivors: A Randomized Clinical Trial.”

Acupressure was developed from traditional Chinese medicine techniques. In acupressure, the fingers, thumbs, or a device are used to put pressure on specific points on the body. Acupressure can be done by a practitioner or it can be self-administered.

The study included 270 women who had been diagnosed with DCIS or early-stage breast cancer and had completed treatment at least a year before the study started. All the women said they had moderate to severe fatigue when the study started. The researchers also measured the women’s sleep quality and overall quality of life before the study started.

The women were randomly assigned to three treatments:

  • relaxing acupressure (94 women)
  • stimulating acupressure (90 women)
  • usual care (86 women)

Relaxing acupressure is traditionally used to treat insomnia. Stimulating acupressure is used to increase energy. These two types of acupressure are different in that they put pressure on different points on the body.

Women in the two acupressure groups were taught how to find and put pressure on the specific points on their bodies so they could perform acupressure at home once per day for 6 weeks.

Women in the usual care group were given handouts on how to better manage their sleep and fatigue.

At the end of 6 weeks, more than half the women in the two acupressure groups had normal fatigue levels, while less than half the women in the usual care group had normal fatigue levels. Percentages of women who had normal fatigue levels after 6 weeks were:

  • 66.2% in the relaxing acupressure group
  • 60.9% in the stimulating acupressure group
  • 31.3% in the usual care group

After 10 weeks (4 weeks after the study ended):

  • 56.3% of women in the relaxing acupressure group
  • 60.9% in the stimulating acupressure group
  • 30.1% in the usual care group

continued to have normal fatigue levels.

Women in the relaxing acupressure group had better sleep quality compared to women in the usual care group at week 6, but not at week 10.

Women in the relaxing acupressure group had better overall quality of life compared to women in the usual care group at weeks 6 and 10. This difference was statistically significant, which means that it was likely because of the difference in treatment and not just due to chance.

Previous studies have suggested that acupuncture, which is similar to acupressure but instead uses very fine needles to stimulate points on the body, can help ease fatigue. Still, not all insurance plans cover acupuncture and it does require a trip to a practitioner’s office to receive the treatment.

The researchers reported that the women in this study were trained how to administer acupressure to themselves in 15 minutes. Once trained, the women could treat themselves at home.

"Given the brief training required to learn acupressure, this intervention could be a low-cost option for treating fatigue," said Suzanna Zick, associate research professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan and lead author of the study.

The researchers are developing an app to teach acupressure.

If you continue to feel fatigue a year or more after breast cancer treatment has ended, you might want to talk to your doctor about this study. You can easily learn to give yourself acupressure, and as this study shows, the technique can help many women. Acupressure is one of several complementary and holistic medicine techniques that have been shown to help ease breast cancer treatment side effects. Other techniques include yoga, massage, acupuncture, journaling, and meditation.

You can learn more in the Complementary & Holistic Medicine section.

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