Therapeutic Acupressure: The Medium is the Massage

Shop Talk by Kitty Kaufman

Therapeutic acupressure massage is an ancient way of healing pain by applying pressure to meridian points. Also known as shiatsu, it is a way of bringing the body back into natural balance through mind-body relaxation. Dr. Jiehua Zhang opened his Brookline, MA clinic in February and I interviewed him there.

You have an unusual background.
Yes, I came here after 16 years as a licensed physician in Ghana. Originally I earned my medical degree from Shanghai Medical University. When I graduated I was an internist. Later, I specialized in dermatology and worked in a Chinese government hospital for 15 years.

What was that like?
It's very hot in Shanghai so people get itchy heat rashes. I developed a treatment for this seasonal dermatitis. After a story was published in the paper, several thousand people came to our hospital to get the remedy.

How do you fit with Eastern and Western medicine?
I always refer patients with acute problems to conventional physicians. However, with some chronic conditions you can add Eastern medicine and herbs as secondary treatment. Similarly, we get referrals from physicians to help patients with long-term illness.

What type of acupressure massage do you do?
There are two kinds: relaxation massage helps relieve stress. My specialty is therapeutic acupressure which is useful in the treatment of headaches, neck pain, back and joint pain, muscle spasms, and insomnia.

How do you work?
We use our hands to apply gentle but firm pressure to meridian points. According to traditional Chinese medicine, each of these points connects to a specific organ. So by pressing on a certain point you affect that organ.

What are meridian points?
Meridians are channels called qi (pronounced chi). They carry energy through the body. We feel that if these critical points are out of balance, sometimes sickness can develop. Acupressure regulates the flow of qi.

Does therapeutic acupressure use the same meridians as acupuncture?
Yes, acupressure and acupuncture use the same points. The difference is acupressure works without needles so it's non-invasive. By pushing on these key areas, you stimulate the body's own self-curing ability. Physically reducing stress can boost your immune system and keep you from getting sick.

What are the benefits?
It will usually affect you in very positive ways. Some people experience more energy and an overall feeling of well-being. In addition, neck and shoulder pain will be relieved. It also helps increase circulation.

What about Western medicine and acupressure?
Many Western doctors agree that meridians are located at key points of the autonomic nervous system. When you apply pressure to meridians you can actually have an effect on another part of the body.

Who benefits from therapeutic acupressure?
We see improvement in patients with headaches, back and neck pain, stress, arthritis, sinus problems and even eyestrain. In fact, we have eye massage geared to people who spend hours in front of a computer. We'll teach it to you in one session and then you do it for yourself.
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