03/10/2011 08:49 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

When To Consider Acupressure: An M.D.'s Prescription

You can think of acupressure as "acupuncture without needles." It is a branch of the practice of traditional Chinese Medicine, with its various components that promote the proper flow of energy, the fundamental life energy in all of us, using the hands, or herbs, or acupuncture needles.

Perhaps you have heard the term "Qi (or Chi)", or Ki, or Gi, Chinese or Japanese or Korean terms for the energy inherent in our bodies. Eastern 'medicine' for millennia has held that when the flow of Qi is obstructed or hindered all varieties of malaise and illness befall us. Problems with Qi flow can manifest in troubles as diverse as musculoskeletal pain and stiffness, headaches, digestive and sleep disorders, not to mention emotional stress and distress. The task of the Eastern practitioner, thus, is to relieve the Qi blockage, hence helping the patient heal and feel energetically revived.

The branch devoted to the use of pressure points to restore energy flow is called the practice of acupressure. In Japan, it is called Shiatsu, in Korea, Sugi. Sugi literally means hand and energy. Acupressure is different in two principal ways from the many bodywork techniques available today: First, it does not use oils and lotions that bodywork typically employs to aide gliding and kneading strokes on bare skin and the underlying musculature; instead the practitioner applies finger pressure on specific sites of the body. Second, and more importantly, acupressure is directed by a carefully studied and intricate system of some 360 points and 12 meridians on the human body, the same orientations used in acupuncture and considered functional (and externally available) extensions of our internal organs.

I recall the first time I had Shiatsu in a small, spa town in Japan many years ago. A middle aged, dowdy looking Japanese woman with a purse from another era over her arm came to my room. After about a ½ hour I had to stop, and it took me a couple of days to recover from the pain. I attribute that pain to the fact that I was not prepared to let myself relax and let the pressure do its work. Once in Thailand another pressure practitioner began to walk on my back, all 110 pounds of her. It was an experience that I knew I wanted to repeat -- but with someone whose study was as exacting and whose skills were as able as that of any doctor or therapist I would consult here in the U.S..

As a practitioner of Western medicine, I have seen the marvels that science has brought to remedying disease. But we all have seen, as well, how the limits of Western medicine have prompted the growth, in many countries outside of Asia, of what is called alternative and complementary medicine. That's because we seek more than what western medicine has to offer.

If I have an infection, I want an antibiotic -- give me a western approach to my disease. But when I have stress, a pill is not what I want. And even when I am taking a pill or other western treatment for many a condition I want to give my body the resilience and strength it needs to recover. Wellness is truly complementary to treating illness. One does not exclude the other. What so many people now seek are techniques that release the body's energy to help clear the mind, relieve the body's ails and knots, and improve our mood. Practitioners are more likely available in cities but not only there. A website that nicely explains Sugi Acupressure is

Rousseau was said to have exhorted "bring me medicine, not the doctor." But that was before the east began to join the west, before western medicine could be combined with complementary eastern techniques. Now we don't have to choose just one.

The opinions expressed herein are solely my own as a psychiatrist and public health advocate.

Dr. Sederer receives no support from any pharmaceutical or device company.

Visit Dr. Sederer's website at - for questions you want answered, reviews and stories.