Pressure points are sensitive areas of the body where pressure can be applied to cause certain effects or sensations. Properly applying pressure to these spots can cause pleasure, relief of pain, relief of stress or healing, as in acupuncture and reflexology. These points also can be used to cause pain, injury or incapacitation in certain forms of martial arts and other types of combat. In modern medicine, pressure points are defined as areas of the body that have high nerve density. The concentration of nerves in one area of the body results in hypersensitivity in that area.
There is no consensus for how many pressure points the body has or their exact locations. One hundred points are used in traditional Chinese medicine, but other sources believe that there might be thousands of them. Their number and locations also can vary depending on the way in which they are being used.
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Sometimes called zone therapy, reflexology uses pressure that is applied by the fingers, elbows or other instruments to massage or push on the subject's pressure points in the feet, hands and ears, thereby redirecting energy pathways. Based on the belief that all of the body’s major organs are represented by specific points on the hands, feet or ears, reflexology holds that by stimulating the matching pressure points, corresponding organs will be helped. The benefits of stimulating these points include improved circulation, stress relief and repaired energy flow. All of this is considered by many people to help the body function more efficiently and heal.
A branch of traditional Chinese medicine called acupuncture teaches that the body has points where energy accumulates and its flow is inhibited. By penetrating these spots with tiny needles, energy pathways are thought to be redirected, thereby benefiting the subject's overall health and healing. Acupressure is a similar practice, but instead of using needles, pressure is applied using the practitioner's bare hands.
At the other end of the spectrum, the study of pressure points for use in martial arts and other types of combat is aimed at identifying those areas of the body that are susceptible to causing extreme pain or injury. These points are identified so that they can be attacked, thereby injuring an opponent or rendering him or her incapacitated. The eyes, nose and groin are commonly cited combat pressure points. Two spots under the jaw bone, one on each side of the face, are often taught in self-defense classes as primary pressure points to be used by victims of violence.