Self-Administered Acupressure Studied for Chronic Low Back Pain Relief Interview with:

Susan Murphy, Sc.D., O.T.R.
Associate Professor
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Department
Research Health Science Specialist
VA Ann Arbor Health Care System, GRECC  What is the background for this study?

Response: Chronic low back pain is very common and affects quality of life by reducing the ability to carry out needed and valued activities. In addition, people with chronic low back pain tend to have other symptoms like fatigue, sleep disturbances, and depression. Medications are typically prescribed but have side effects, and in some cases, may increase the risk of abuse and addiction. Non-pharmacological treatments are an important part of chronic pain management and may reduce pain as well as other symptoms.

In this study, we examined the use of self-administered acupressure as a pain management strategy in people with chronic low back pain. Acupressure is a Traditional Chinese Medicine technique in which physical pressure is applied to specific points on the body. It is similar to acupuncture, but instead of needles, pressure is applied with a finger, thumb, or device. In previous studies, people with cancer-related or osteoarthritis pain who self-applied acupressure had reduced symptoms such as pain and fatigue. What are the main findings?

Response: Our pilot randomized controlled trial involved 67 participants with chronic low back pain. They were randomized into one of three groups – relaxing acupressure, stimulating acupressure, or usual care. Participants in the acupressure groups were trained to apply pressure to specific anatomical points on their body, and asked to complete daily treatment sessions for 6 weeks. We found that people who performed stimulating acupressure had improved pain and fatigue, and people who performed relaxing acupressure had improved pain after 6 weeks compared to those in the usual care group. No differences among the groups were found for sleep quality or disability after 6 weeks. Participants performed an average of 85% of the daily acupressure sessions and there were minimal adverse events. Adverse events, such as skin breakdown, muscle spasm, and headache were attributed to applying too much pressure and adjustments in application technique was done to avoid future issues. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Self-administered acupressure shows some promising effects on pain and fatigue in people with chronic low back pain. It is a low cost and low risk symptom management strategy that people can adhere to. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: Because this was only a pilot study, larger studies are needed to support the effectiveness of this treatment for people with chronic low back pain.


Susan Lynn Murphy, Richard Edmund Harris, Nahid Roonizi Keshavarzi, Suzanna Maria Zick, Self-Administered Acupressure for Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial, Pain Medicine, , pnz138,

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