Acupressure reduced persistent fatigue in women who had been treated for breast cancer, improving both sleep and quality of life. Fatigue is one of the most frequent long-term side effects of treatment for breast cancer, with approximately one-third of survivors experiencing moderate to severe fatigue up to 10 years after completing treatment.1
This study indicated acupressure decreased fatigue by 27% to 34% over a period of 6 weeks. Two-thirds of women who received relaxing acupressure achieved normal fatigue levels by the end of treatment.
“Fatigue is an underappreciated symptom across a lot of chronic diseases, especially cancer. It has a significant impact on quality of life. Acupressure is easy to learn and patients can do it themselves,” said Suzanna Zick, MD, MPH, associate research professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and first author of the study.
Acupressure, from traditional Chinese medicine, involves the application of pressure with fingers, thumbs, or a device to specific points on the body. Researchers compared relaxing acupressure to stimulating acupressure. Relaxing acupressure is traditionally used to treat insomnia, and stimulating acupressure is traditionally used to increase energy.
In total, 424 survivors of breast cancer from the Michigan Tumor Registry enrolled in the study. Researchers randomized participants into relaxing acupressure, stimulating acupressure, or usual care groups. Usual care includes typical techniques for managing sleep.
Women in the acupressure groups were taught how to find and press on the acupressure points so they could perform the acupressure at home once per day for 6 weeks.
Both acupressure groups experienced significant, lasting improvements in fatigue, but only the relaxing acupressure group experienced improved sleep quality and overall quality of life.
Previous research suggests acupuncture could help ameliorate fatigue, but the treatment often is not covered by insurance. In addition, the treatment necessitates a visit with a practitioner once or twice a week for 6 weeks.
Acupressure, however, can be easy to learn and self-administered. Participants in the acupressure groups received 15 minutes of training, enabling them to accurately locate the correct acupressure points and apply appropriate pressure.
Some participants reported minor bruising at the acupressure sites. Approximately 12% of participants discontinued the study as they felt it was too time intensive.
“Given the brief training required to learn acupressure, this intervention could be a low-cost option for treating fatigue,” said Zick.
1. Zick SM, Sen A, Wyatt GK, Murphy SL, Arnedt JT, Harris RE. Investigation of 2 types of self-administered acupressure for persistent cancer-related fatigue in breast cancer survivors: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Oncol. 2016 Jul 7. doi: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2016.1867. [Epub ahead of print]