New guidelines recommend integrative options for cancer-related pain

Acupressure and acupuncture were among the recommendations.

By: Christine McDevitt, MS, OTR/L

Guidelines published by the Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO) and the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) included acupressure and acupuncture in the list of evidence-based options for managing cancer-related pain in adults.

Both acupuncture and acupressure have been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years and are still actively used for a variety of health issues in many parts of the world today.

The SIO-ASCO guidelines recommended acupressure for three types of cancer-related pain:

  • musculoskeletal pain (i.e., pain in the muscles, bones, joints, tendons, or ligaments),
  • peripheral neuropathy (i.e., numbness or tingling in the hands or feet) caused by chemotherapy,
  • surgical or procedure-related pain.

How acupressure may help with cancer-related pain

Acupressure is a non-invasive process of stimulating specific points (acupoints) on your body to help balance the flows of physiological energy through your system.

Both acupuncture and acupressure are based on the theory that energy runs through specific pathways in the body called meridians. Imbalances along those pathways can cause physical symptoms, including pain.

Stimulating the acupoints can help the body correct the imbalances and return to a more balanced state, resulting in decreased symptoms and reduced pain.

Image by Acupuncture Box from Pixabay

While acupuncture and acupressure are both effective for helping with cancer-related pain, there are some practical differences between the two.

Acupuncture and acupressure use the same points on the body to access the meridians. However, acupuncture uses needles to stimulate the points while acupressure does not. During an acupressure session, the points are stimulated using either fingers or a simple device to apply gentle pressure.

Acupressure can be performed as a full session with a trained practitioner holding points on your body for you. An acupressure practitioner can also teach you to hold specific points or a series of points on yourself as part of a self-care routine.

Acupuncture, because it uses needles, can only be performed by a licensed acupuncturist, and cannot be used as a self-care option at home.

The recommendations for acupressure for cancer-related pain were based on available evidence and clinical relevance.

To develop the guidelines, a multidisciplinary panel of experts reviewed 227 research articles from 1990-2021. The studies compared various integrative therapies to standard care, placebos, sham interventions, other interventions, and active controls.

The panel acknowledged that the quality of the evidence in many of the studies was lower because of issues with the studies themselves (e.g., small sample sizes and flaws and/or limitations in study design).

However, the panel considered the clinical relevance of each intervention in addition to the evidence available. The panel recommended an intervention if, based on the available evidence, its potential benefit outweighed the risk of harm.

In addition to acupressure and acupuncture, other recommended interventions in the guidelines included:

  • guided imagery with progressive muscle relaxation for pain from cancer treatment,
  • massage for chronic pain following breast cancer treatment,
  • Hatha yoga for pain after treatment for breast or head and neck cancer.

You can read the full guidelines with more details about the studies reviewed in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

The recommended interventions aren’t intended to be replacements for standard pain management options.

The SIO and ASCO emphasized that the interventions in the guidelines are recommended as adjuncts, not replacements, for conventional methods to manage cancer-related pain.

If you’re interested in exploring mind-body modalities and a more integrative approach to your recovery, it’s recommended that you check with your doctors before starting anything new.

If you’re wondering if acupressure might be helpful for you, you can

schedule a free phone consultation today to get your questions answered.