Monday 11th April, 2022

What is the difference between trigger points, acupressure points, and other pressure points

Woman receiving pressure point therapy
In this article we will explain the differences between the different "pressure" points, and which is best for you

There are a variety of systems of “pressure points” used for health benefits and to relieve pain. They all have their devoted advocates and come with their story about how they work and why they are beneficial. So, if you are looking at this type of care how do you know what the difference is and which you need.

In this article we’ll go over the differences, then give you some guidance to help you work out which is best for you, and as a bonus we’ll show you how to find these points and treat them yourself.

CONTENTS

The difference between trigger points, acupressure points and shiatsu
How do you work out which is the best therapy for you
How to treat these pressure points on yourself
Links for various problems that involve trigger points
Professionals
References

The difference between trigger points, acupressure points and shiatsu

To put it simply, trigger points, acupressure (acupuncture) points and shiatsu points come with completely different stories, but the points themselves are about 95% the same (1–6)⁠. The easiest way to explain this is that the originators of these systems have found exactly the same problems, but come up with a way to explain them based upon their knowledge at the time.

In the case of acupuncture and shiatsu, these systems were developed by the Chinese and Japanese respectively thousands of years ago when science as we know it did not exist. On the other hand trigger points were identified as abnormal lumps in muscles, then investigated and explained using modern scientific knowledge.

How do you work out which is the best therapy for you

Each of the therapies basically press a similar points in a similar way. However, lets look at the differences in the way each has evolved and how it affects the way the points are used.

How each of the therapies has evolved

Acupressure (acupuncture) and shiatsu have evolved using clinical experience

The practice of acupuncture (acupressure) and shiatsu have evolved using thousands of years of clinical experience. To put it diplomatically the explanations such as the meridians and so forth are not consistent with science, but there is likely some truth in a lot of the relationships between the points and various conditions they are said to fix.

How trigger points have evolved by scientifically investigating abnormal lumps

Trigger points have developed from therapists finding abnormal abnormal lumps in muscles, then using scientific methodology to explain them and work out how they can affect your body.

Comparing the trigger point approach with the acupuncture/shiatsu approach

Perhaps the easiest way to explain the differing approaches is to use the example of a common problem: headaches.

The acupressure/shiatsu approach

Based on thousands of years experience acupressure and shiatsu practitioners know the common points that have been found to help headaches. Based on this they use what amounts to recipe approach. For example, in a trial on acupressure for headaches (7)⁠ the therapists pressed on these points: GV20, Ex7, LI4, GB34, ST36, and LI10. Using this approach a therapist might just press on each of the points regardless of whether they were actually involved.

The trigger points approach

Scientists have investigated which muscles contain trigger points that are able to refer pain to the head. Armed with this list, a trigger point therapist would examine each of the muscles and treat any trigger point he or she found. Also, having identified definite problems (the lumps) they are able to re-check after therapy to see if the problem has improved.

Which is the best approach

Musculoskeletal pains

When dealing with musculoskeletal pain such as back, neck and shoulder pain it’s no contest. Rather than having a therapist use a canned response of pressing on pre determined points it is much better to have a professional with an excellent knowledge of things like anatomy, physiology and musculoskeletal function to diagnose the problem, work out which muscles may be involved, then examine the muscles and treat what is actually needed. Please note that most headaches are actually musculoskeletal pains coming from the muscles and joints of your head and neck, so this approach was used in the example above.

Health issues

When dealing with health type issues, as discussed in our article The Health Benefits of Massage general massage and muscular therapy can have some huge benefits such as improving sleep and reducing blood pressure. All forms of pressure therapy are likely give these benefits. A therapist using the trigger point approach would investigate the areas he of she though may be involved and treat what was found. On the other hand it is possible that the clinical experience gained over thousands of years may may have identified links between points and health issues that science is yet to identify.

How to treat these pressure points on yourself

Dr Graeme's comments

Graeme’s comments

We like to think that the science based trigger point approach is more accurate at determining which points need to be treated. I’ll show you this approach. However, for practical purposes the points and the way they are pressed on are the same as for acupressure and shiatsu, so effectively you’ll be doing them as well. To get you started, in this section I’ll briefly run over what trigger points are, how they are found and how they are treated. For more info I’ll link our comprehensive guides. So you know which points to treat, rather than use the acupressure/ shiatsu recipy approach I’ll give you links to our guides on various problems such as headaches, shoulder pain and low back pain, and many others that show the muscles and trigger points that need investigating for each.

Trigger point chart

What are trigger points

The technical name for these are Myofascial Trigger Points. They are tender lumps in your muscles that develop slowly over time. At the start you don’t know they are there unless a therapist presses on them (ouch), but if left they can get larger and eventually start shooting pain. Trigger point therapists often have charts like these showing where the points are and the pain they cause. For more information on trigger points please see our article Your complete guide to (myofascial) trigger points

How to find trigger points

A trigger point therapist will usually use their clinical knowledge including charts like above to zero in on the muscles possibly involved. To help you with this, below we’ve got links to various guides that show you the muscles possibly involve for conditions such as headaches, back pain, shoulder pain, fibromyalgia and more. To find the trigger points in these muscles a therapist will use his or her fingers to examine the muscles for tight bands of muscles and tender lumps. You will find instructions on how to do this in our article How to treat trigger points at home

How to treat trigger points

In our guide How to treat trigger points at home we show you how to use three very effective home trigger point therapies:

  • self massage,
  • self pressure release therapy, and
  • vibration massage.

Professionals

By far the easiest and most effective way to treat these points is by using a professional standard vibration massager such as our DrGraeme massagers. They were originally built by Dr Graeme for use in his clinic, and to prescribe to his patients for additional self use at home. Now these are used by colleagues and other professionals for similar purposes. If you are a professional and wish to know more about this therapy, or possibly get a sample massager to trial please check out our practitioner page

References

  1. Robinson N, Lorenc A, Liao X. The evidence for Shiatsu: A systematic review of Shiatsu and acupressure. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2011;11.
  2. Cabo F, Baskwill A, Aguaristi I, Christophe-Tchakaloff S, Guichard JP. Shiatsu and acupressure: Two different and distinct techniques. Int J Ther Massage Bodyw Res Educ Pract. 2018;11(2):4–10.
  3. Sun M, Yang M, Rong J, Ma X, Zheng H, Cai D, et al. Trigger points and sensitized acupoints: same book, different covers? Acupunct Herb Med. 2021;1(2):74–80.
  4. Dorsher PT, Fleckenstein J. Trigger Points and Classical Acupuncture Points: Part 1: Qualitative and Quantitative Anatomic Correspondences. Dtsch Zeitschrift für Akupunkt. 2008 Jan 1;51(3):15–24.
  5. Dorsher PT, Fleckenstein J. Trigger points and classical acupuncture points Part 2: clincal correspondences in treating pain and somatovisceral disorders. Rev Int Acupunt. 2009;62–8.
  6. Dorsher PT, Fleckenstein J. Trigger Points and Classical Acupuncture Points Part 3: Relationships of Myofascial Referred Pain Patterns to Acupuncture Meridians. Dt Ztschr f Akup. 2009;52(1):9–14.
  7. Lekshmi M, Shashikran H., Prashanth S, Geetha S. A Comparative Study On Immediate Effect Of Acupuncture And Acupressure On Headache – A Pilot Study. Int J Innov Res Adv Stud. 2019;6(10):74–7.

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Dr Graeme

About Dr Graeme

Several years ago Dr Graeme, a Chiropractor practicing in Victoria, Australia was looking for a serious hand held massager his patients could use at home to get the extra quality massage they needed. The ones he found in the shops and on-line for home use looked nice but were not serious, and... read more



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