Shiatsu is a manual therapy that provides support and helps strengthen the body’s natural ability to heal and balance itself. This technique works on the person as a whole – not just the physical body, but also the psychological, emotional and spiritual being. Shiatsu originated from Traditional Chinese Medicine, and has been influenced more recently by Western therapies. The name Shiatsu means ‘finger pressure’ in Japanese; however, practitioners use touch, comfortable pressure and manipulative techniques to adjust the body’s physical structure and balance energy flow. A very relaxing experience that, with regular treatments, can alleviate stress and illness, or maintain health and well-being.
Shiatsu is a form of Japanese massage therapy, based on the same principles as acupuncture, only the practitioner uses hands instead of needles. Like acupuncture and acupressure, shiatsu is based on the belief that good health depends on the balanced flow of energy through the body in a network of channels called meridians. According to shiatsu therapists, disruption to this energy flow can cause illness and disease. Shiatsu is a therapy that is used to stimulate or unblock this vital energy flow, known as Qi (pronounced chi) within the body by using a gentle type of massage.
The Shiatsu practitioner uses his/her fingers, palms, thumbs, elbows, knees and even feet to press along meridian lines of the body. The aim is to rebalance the body by applying pressure to key points to influence and stimulate energy flow in the body. Treatment is tailored to the individual and the therapist may also gently stretch or hold areas of the body to reduce stiffness and soreness. Shiatsu practitioners believe that the therapy stimulates the circulation of your blood, helps to release toxins and tension from your muscles, and stimulates your hormonal system. This is believed to help the body heal itself. During your first visit, the practitioner will ask you about your medical history, symptoms, allergies and any medicines you are taking before giving you a treatment.
A shiatsu treatment is non-invasive and usually takes place on a futon on the floor, or on a massage couch. However, if you are unable to lie down, treatments can also be done seated. The session is given with you fully dressed but preferably wearing loose-fitting, comfortable clothes to allow for movement. Although a shiatsu practitioner may include a range of techniques and approaches in each session, treatments can be characterised as having three main features: relaxed pressure applied to specific points, stretching and mobilisation of joints. Breathing, relaxation and visualisation techniques may also be included. At the end of the session the practitioner may suggest and demonstrate some simple and practical exercises for you to do at home to contribute to the process of recovery and healing.
A typical Shiatsu session lasts from 45 minutes to 1 hour. The number and length of appointments will vary depending on the centre and your individual needs, which you should discuss with the centre co-ordinator.
Shiatsu is an ancient form of oriental medicine dating back 5000 years to the beginning of acupuncture. Shiatsu is a Japanese word that literally means finger pressure and was developed from the ancient Japanese technique of Tui Na in the early 20th Century and first introduced to the west in the 1970s. It falls within a wider category of Asian bodywork techniques which use the acupressure points to manipulate the flow of Qi around the body. There are a number of branches and new forms of Asian body work and shiatsu, which incorporate other techniques such as breathing, meditation and stretching.
Some examples include acupressure – a manual form of acupuncture; Tui Na – very similar to shiatsu, but it also uses massage-like manipulation of soft tissue; Ohashiatsu – shiatsu with the addition of exercise and meditation; and Watsu – shiatsu practised in warm water to support the joints and aid relaxation. Today it is an autonomous treatment method influenced by Chinese, Japanese and Western knowledge. In addition to being regularly used by thousands of people all over the world, a variety of charities, health foundations, NHS trusts and hospitals in the UK provide Shiatsu to support patients whilst receiving treatment for a range of health issues and to help them maintain their general wellbeing.
Shiatsu is generally a safe therapy but care should be taken after surgery or radiotherapy. You should check with your doctor before having shiatsu massage as it may not be suitable for all cancer patients. This is especially important if you are having cancer treatment, are very weak, have bone fractures, have heart problems, suffer from arthritis, or are pregnant or breastfeeding. There are some conditions that mean your therapist should use a more gentle type of shiatsu. These might include low platelets in the blood or weakened bones, e.g. osteoporosis. If you have a high temperature or fever, your therapist may want to delay your treatment until you have recovered.
After your first treatment you may have some mild side effects such as headache and muscle stiffness and you may also feel very tired. But these symptoms usually pass within a few hours. If they continue you should contact your doctor or therapist for advice. Some people with cancer use shiatsu to help control symptoms and side effects such as anxiety, poor appetite, sleep problems, pain, low mood, and fatigue. They say that it helps them to cope better with their cancer and its treatment and can help to minimise the mental, emotional and physical stress placed upon an individual following a cancer diagnosis. After a shiatsu treatment people feel very relaxed and have higher energy levels. Although there have been many studies involving other Asian bodywork techniques, only a small number are related to shiatsu itself, which means there is currently no scientific evidence to support the use of shiatsu for controlling cancer symptoms. This doesn’t mean that shiatsu doesn’t work in controlling symptoms or side effects, simply that it has not yet been tested properly. However, many studies have looked at the health benefits of acupressure, which is one of the techniques used in shiatsu practice. Acupressure and shiatsu use the same points and are based on the meridian system of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Studies looking at acupressure seemed to show that it worked well for certain types of pain, and might be able to help patients with some cancer therapy side effects, but not nausea and vomiting. Several studies have looked specifically at the effects of acupressure on controlling symptoms of sickness in people with cancer but results have been conflicting. A high quality review of randomised controlled trials found that stimulation of the P6 point on the wrist helped relieve nausea. Some cancer hospitals use anti-sickness bracelets as a way of controlling nausea. But there is currently no strong evidence to prove that it helps sickness caused by chemotherapy or radiotherapy in people with cancer. More high quality research is needed before a conclusion can be reached.
£30-60. Some clinics are able to offer an initial package of up to eight free/ low cost sessions. If, after these sessions, the clinic is unable to offer you more, they should be able to refer you to individual therapists or centres that offer this service.
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