DIY Acupressure Could Relieve Arthritis Knee Pain. Here’s How to Do It

Key Takeaways

  • A new study has found that a little self-acupressure could be a safe, low-cost way to relieve knee pain from arthritis.
  • Acupressure is similar to acupuncture but uses massage and pressure instead of needles.
  • It’s actually fairly easy to learn how to do acupressure on yourself or others, but certain people do need to take precautions before trying it.

A recent study from China found that self-administered acupressure is a cost-effective way to reduce arthritic knee pain in people over the age of 50.

Arthritis affects about 21% of adults in the United States, and some of them are interested in finding ways to manage joint pain without medication. The new randomized clinical trial found that after 12 weeks of self-administered acupressure, participants’ numerical rating scale pain scores decreased significantly compared to the people who didn’t use the intervention.

“Acupressure can be very helpful for relieving pain in areas affected by arthritis,” Sue Kim, MD, a medical acupuncturist with Stanford Health Care, told Verywell. “The fact that it can be self-administered may be empowering to patients and in that light, it may facilitate a level of pain relief beyond the mechanical effects.”  

What Is Acupressure?

Acupressure is a type of massage therapy that stimulates meridians (also called energy pathways) located at certain points in the body. The stimulation may help relieve pain and stress and boost overall wellness. It’s similar to acupuncture, but acupressure uses hands, elbows, palms, or feet to activate the touch points instead of needles.

Acupressure is rooted in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and is commonly used in Asian countries to help with various health conditions, including:

  • Arthritis
  • Headache
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Head and neck pain
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Digestive problems
  • Insomnia 
  • Labor pain

Wing-Fai Yeung, PhD, a study author from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, told Verywell that TCM theory claims acupressure regulates the flow of vital energy (qi) through meridians or channels in the body and that stimulating certain acupoints helps correct energy imbalances. Fixing the imbalance, in turn, leads to pain relief and promotes healing.

There are 361 acupoints on the body that are divided and organized into 14 separate meridians. Each meridian relates to a specific organ of the body:

  • Lung Meridian (LU)
  • Large Intestine Meridian (LI)
  • Stomach Meridian (ST)
  • Spleen Meridian (SP)
  • Heart Meridian (HT)
  • Small Intestine Meridian (SI)
  • Bladder Meridian (BL)
  • Kidney Meridian (KI)
  • Pericardium Meridian (PC)
  • Triple Energizer Meridian (TE)
  • Gall Bladder Meridian (GB)
  • Liver Meridian (LR)
  • Governor Vessel (GV)
  • Conception Vessel (CV) 

TCM views acupressure as correcting energy imbalances, but it’s viewed through a different lens in other parts of the world. “From a Western Medicine standpoint, acupressure likely releases endorphins, relieves tension, and may even release trigger points that are causing local and referred pain due to excess tautness of the muscles and soft tissues,” said Kim.

Can Acupressure Help With Arthritis Knee Pain?

Acupressure massage provides relief from knee pain in a couple of ways, according to Yeung:

  • Reduces inflammation by stimulating the release of anti-inflammatory substances
  • Modulates pain pathways by inhibiting activation of pain-sensing cells
  • Improves circulation by increasing local blood flow and nutrient supply to the affected area
  • Induces muscle relaxation and reduces muscle tension that can cause pain

“In my experience, the pain that most patients feel in the setting of osteoarthritis is not necessarily due to the joint issue specifically but more often due to muscle and soft tissue dysfunction, weakness, and strain due to deconditioning and loss of muscle mass,” said Kim. “Other points on the hands and feet correlating to the knee or other targeted area of the body (using the Korean hand acupuncture map and reflexology), as well as the ear may offer additional relief.”

How Can You Do Self-Acupressure for Knee Pain?

Yeung recommends getting comprehensive training on self-administered acupressure techniques from a trained professional, but you can learn the basics of how to massage acupoints for knee pain on your own.

To get started, find a quiet place to relax for about 10–15 minutes. Next, use your thumb to massage and apply pressure for 30–60 seconds to the following three points associated with knee pain:

  • ST-36: You can find this spot 4 finger widths down from your kneecap and 2 finger widths from your shinbone toward the outside of your leg.
  • BL-40: This spot is located on the crease in the hollow section behind your bended knee.
  • SP-9: You can find this spot in the hollow below your kneecap toward the inside of your lower leg.

In the study mentioned earlier, doing acupressure for 15 minutes a day over a 12-week period provided the participants with the most relief from knee pain.

Besides using your thumbs, other sources of pressure can also work. “I often recommend a self-massage with a massage ball or massage gun at specific acupoints both for knee pain as well as general pain related to arthritis in other areas,” Kim said.

Acupressure should not cause soreness or tenderness. If it does, use a lighter touch. 

Is Acupressure Safe for Everyone?

Just like with any other treatment you’re thinking about trying, it’s always wise to talk about it with your healthcare provider first. According to Yeung and Kim, self-administered acupressure is both safe and effective to do on yourself. However, certain people need to take precautions:

  • Children
  • People with bleeding disorders or taking blood thinners
  • People with severe pain, inflammation, or infection at the acupressure site
  • Pregnant people (some acupoints can stimulate uterine contractions)
  • People with cognitive impairment or neuropathy (nerve damage)

But even if you fall into this group, you may still be able to use acupressure. “With the right precautions, acupressure can be a safe, low-cost self-care option for managing various health conditions,” said Yeung.

What This Means For You

You may be able to add acupressure to your relief from arthritis knee pain toolkit. If you want to give it a try, it is something you can learn to do on your own. But it’s always wise to check in with your provider to make sure it’s safe for you to do.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Arthritis: national statistics.

  2. Yeung WF, Chen SC, Cheung DST, et al. Self-administered acupressure for probable knee osteoarthritis in middle-aged and older adults: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Netw Open. 2024;7(4):e245830. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2024.5830

  3. American Institute of Alternative Medicine. Eight amazing benefits of acupressure.

  4. Karimi L, Mahdavian M, Makvandi S. A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of acupressure on relieving the labor pain. Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res. 2020;25(6):455-462. doi:10.4103/ijnmr.IJNMR_257_19

  5. Kim J, Kang DI. Positioning standardized acupuncture points on the whole body based on X-ray computed tomography images. Med Acupunct. 2014;26(1):40-49. doi:10.1089/acu.2013.1002

  6. Kaiser Permanente. Acupressure for knee pain.

Amy Isler head shot

By Amy Isler, RN, MSN, CSN

Isler is a registered nurse with over six years of patient experience. She is a credentialed school nurse in California.

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