The primary difference between acupressure and acupuncture is that the latter uses thin needles in addressing health concerns, while the former doesn't break your skin. However, the two methods of holistic medicine have much in common, since they are both based on touching meridians that carry energy, or chi, throughout the body. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, TCM, ailments are caused by blockages of chi somewhere along fourteen meridians, so both acupressure and acupuncture encourage energy to flow freely once again; they are used to treat allergies, arthritis, depression, nausea, migraine headaches, menstrual cramps, and anxiety, according to the philosophy of TCM.
Acupuncture, as the word suggests, punctures the skin with very thin, long needles. They do not resemble the needles you see at a western doctor's office, for they don't inject any material. Acupuncture needles are flexible lengths of disposable, hypoallergenic, sterile metal that a trained acupuncturist delicately inserts beneath the skin, into muscle and tissue. When properly done, this shouldn't hurt at all. The needles reach certain areas, called pressure points, to break up the blockages.
One difference between acupressure and acupuncture arises in the specific application of the techniques. Acupuncture must be performed by a practitioner experienced in TCM. Several pressure points in specific combinations are accessed at the same time. The acupuncturist needs to reach bare skin, therefore the patient usually disrobes prior to being treated.
Anyone can easily learn acupressure from a handbook, especially pressure points that relieve common discomforts. You can perform the miniature massages on yourself, anywhere. Massaging the muscle located between your thumb and index finger is believed to relieve dehydration headaches, while pressing a spot on the inside of your forearm eases motion sickness. An acupressurist only touches one or two pressure points at a time, since they use their fingers, thumbs, palms, and elbows. Since this is similar to massage, it can be administered through loose clothing.
Acupressure is much older than acupuncture, dating back to 2500 BCE in China. Both practices have been recently evaluated by western standards of medicine; some studies have found them to be efficacious. For example, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and suffering from extreme nausea used acupressure, applied through a bracelet, to curb their nausea with consistent results.
In general, since an acupuncture tool is so thin, it requires greater accuracy, yet might bring quicker relief. On the other hand, acupressure is less precise since the tool is as wide as a finger. Then again, the speedy relief can come with side effects from releasing toxins or realigning muscle groups. Acupressure produces fewer side effects, similar to a deep tissue massage, and is more difficult to do "wrongly" to worsen the ailment.