Acupressure Helps with Fatigue and Sleep Quality of Cancer Survivors

Women who have been treated for breast cancer often complain of lack of sleep and persistent fatigue, but a new study has found that acupressure helps to reduce that constant feeling of tiredness.

Breast cancer treatment comes with the unfortunate long-term symptom of fatigue, with approximately 1/3 of women experiencing moderate to severe symptoms for up to 10 years following their treatment.

Published in JAMA Oncology, this recent study reported that acupressure reduced excessive tiredness by 27% and 34% over a period of six weeks.  One of the healing methods used (relaxing acupressure), was used on 1/3 of the women studied, and 2/3 of them were able to reduce their fatigue and achieve more normal levels of tiredness.

The author of this study and associate professor of Family Medicine at the University of Michigan, Dr. Suzanna Zick, M.D., MPH, notes that fatigue is not often a focus of attention in chronic disease patients, especially those with cancer, even though it has a significant impact on quality of life.  The benefits of this study, Dr. Zick notes, is that acupressure is very easy to learn and can be done in the comfort of the patient’s home by themselves.

Acupressure comes from traditional Chinese medicine techniques, and it involves putting pressure on specific points on the body using the fingers, thumbs, or a special device.  Two types of acupressure were used in this study: stimulating acupressure, which increases energy, and relaxing acupressure, which is often used to treat insomnia.  The points that are stimulated on the body differentiate them.

The Michigan Tumor Registry was used to identify and consent 424 breast cancer survivors.  These participants were randomly placed into one of three groups: stimulating acupressure, relaxing acupressure, and usual care, which included the typical sleep-management techniques used with insomnia patients.  The women who were part of the acupressure groups were taught the location of their specific points, as well as how to stimulate those pressure points, so that they could easily do it at home for six weeks.

When the six weeks was up, both acupressure treatments showed sustained improvements in fatigue levels, but the relaxing acupressure participants reported improved sleep quality, decreased disruption in sleep, and overall higher quality of life.

There have been prior studies that showed evidence that acupuncture may help with fatigue symptoms; however, acupuncture is usually not covered by insurance and needs to be done by a professional once or twice a week for six weeks.

On the other hand, the types of acupressure done in this study are easy to do at home, without the need of office visits or out-of-pocket costs.

The participants in this study were given 15 minutes of education on the points to use and how to stimulate them, and all were able to accurately locate and apply the appropriate amount of pressure by the end of the training.  Of note, some women reported mild bruising at pressure sites.  Approximately 12% of participants self-discontinued due to the process being too time-consuming.

This intervention could be considered one of the easiest low-cost treatment options for patients with fatigue and insomnia, Dr. Zick reports.

In addition to publishing their findings, the researchers are working on creating a mobile application that will teach acupressure.  They will put further time into investigating why acupressure helps with fatigue and sleep, and they will determine whether it would be effective for those who are undergoing active cancer treatments and treatments for other types of cancers.


Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include hiking in the Rockies, cooking, and reading.


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