Recovering from cancer is a difficult and emotional journey. For many patients, one of the hardest side effects to overcome is also, unfortunately, the most common: cancer-related fatigue, or CRF.
CRF is not the same as tiredness, which everyone experiences from time to time. It is a persistent lack of energy felt throughout the whole body that is not relieved by rest or sleep. Sometimes lasting even after treatment ends, CRF can make everyday activities exhausting to complete, and may drastically impact a person’s quality of life.
Multiple studies have shown acupuncture to be effective in the management of CRF. Here at 5 Point Acupuncture, we have extensive experience in treating cancer patients. Between treatments, we sometimes recommend our patients to engage in an invigorating daily regimen of self-administered acupressure to maximise energy flow around the body and help them relax. After reading the impressive results of this study, we will likely recommend this more often. The techniques are easy to learn, and have been shown to be more effective than the standard treatments alone.
A clinical trial tests the effectiveness of self-administer acupressure
A recent study published in the American Medical Association’s JAMA Oncology medical journal measured the effectiveness of two types of self-administered acupressure for breast cancer survivors with CRF. These women had all completed their cancer treatment at least 12 months before the trial begun, but their fatigue had persisted despite their recovery.
The patients were randomly assigned to one of three study groups. One group continued following the standard care their healthcare provider recommended, which typically includes measures such as short naps, stress management, and sometimes medication. Participants in the other two groups also continued to follow their usual care measures, but supplemented these with one of two self-administered acupressure techniques: relaxation or stimulating acupuncture. Trained nurses educated these patients about where the acupoints are on the body, how much pressure to apply, and the correct motion to stimulate them. The patients were also given educational handouts, and for a few days they wore adhesive colored dots over the acupoints they were told to stimulate until they had familiarized themselves with their locations.
The relaxation acupressure group was assigned five acupoints to stimulate for three minutes each, once a day. These points are called Yin tang, Anmian, Heart 7 (HT7), Spleen 6 (SP6) , and Liver 3 (LIV3). With the exception of Yin tang, these acupoints are bilateral, meaning they should be stimulated on both sides of the body. In total, each daily acupressure session would take 27 minutes to complete.
The group who performed stimulated acupressure was assigned six acupoints, which they were also instructed to stimulate for three minutes each per day. Four of these acupoints were bilateral: Large Intestine 4 (LI4), Stomach 36 (ST36), Spleen 6 (SP6), and Kidney 3 (K3). The other points, Du 20 and Conception Vessel 6 (CV6) are only stimulated in one place. This treatment would take 30 minutes to complete each day.
You can see the locations of the acupoints for each acupressure group in the illustration below, taken from the study.
Throughout the study, the patients self-reported their CRF symptoms. Their physical activity and the severity of their fatigue was assessed using an accelerometer (a device that measures movement) worn on the wrist. Researchers also measured their quality of life and their sleep.
Positive results from acupressure
The study revealed significant improvement in CRF symptoms in patients from both acupressure groups compared to patients who followed their usual care regime alone. While both types of acupressure reduced fatigue, the group who practiced relaxing acupressure also showed significant improvement in their quality of life, and were getting a better quality of sleep.
For patients living with CRF, relaxing acupressure can provide some much-needed relief. Acupressure is safe and very easy to learn. Your acupuncturist can advise you on where to apply pressure if you’re unsure.
CRF and other types of persistent fatigue can be difficult to cope with, but the principles of Eastern medicine have helped many patients to find relief. In our next post, we’ll explore some more self-care methods to treat fatigue, including acupressure massages and essential oils.