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Origin and History

Shiatsu is a form of alternative medicine consisting of finger pressure to treat various ailments. Like acupressure, shiatsu also involves stretching, palm pressure, meditation (rarely) and belly pressure.

The therapy was originated in Japan in early 1900. Since then, there hasn’t been many alterations in the therapy despite some minor glitches. The therapy has been believed to tap into a vital form of energy called ‘qi’. This energy is crucial for the body’s defense mechanism, maintaining vitality and agility. The therapy, therefore, focuses on this essential energy that flows throughout the body.

Benefits of Shiatsu
In shiatsu, the focus is mainly restricted on exposed body parts such as thumbs, knees, elbows, or feet. Pressure is applied using rotation, motion, rubbing or stretching. Some of the most striking benefits of the therapy include:

  • Enhances circulation to and fro heart
  • Relieves anxiety, depression, fatigue and nervousness
  • Effective in reducing headache
  • Beneficial in arthritis, osteoporosis and other muscular coordination disorders
  • Restores normal sleeping pattern in patients suffering from sleep disorders and insomnia
  • Promotes rapid relief from spine injuries, backache and lower sprains
  • Alleviates bowel movement, maintains frequency and eases menstrual problems
  • Effective in cold, fever and sinus

Research and studies on efficacy
Several studies were conducted the last century to establish and assess the efficacy of shiatsu in various medical conditions.

  • A study conducted by European Shiatsu Society evaluated the role of shiatsu in bowel conditions and gastric disorder and how the therapy is being practiced in different regions.
  • Another study conducted by National Health Service assessed the integrity of shiatsu in complementary medicine.
  • Apart from this, different associations and investigating agencies have conducted numerous studies and reviews on the efficiency and efficacy of shiatsu. However, the response towards shiatsu is more of a ‘mixed’ type.

How to carry out the therapy?
Shiatsu basically aims at ‘local points’ present on the body. The points are mostly exposed body parts which include knees, elbows, thumb, fingers, palm, etc.

  • Shiatsu practitioners focus on the vital energy ‘qi’ that flows throughout the body.
  • The pressure is brought about by the movement of fingers, circular rotation, palm pressure and elbow push or even belly pressure.
  • In some cases, stretching is also applied so as to build tension in a particular zone.

Who needs Shiatsu?
The therapy is beneficial in enhancing vitality of the body.

  • Hence, patients suffering from conditions like fatigue, depression, post-treatment injuries and insomnia can benefit from the therapy.
  • Additionally, the therapy is also found to be effective in patients suffering from chronic conditions like gastrointestinal disorders, insomnia, muscular coordination disorders, arthritis, bone disorders, and cardiopulmonary congestion.

Precautions, contraindications and interactions
Owing to the lack of scientific evidence, it is difficult to establish any side effect(s) on a commercial scale.

  • However, local reports have suggested one case of stroke immediately after shiatsu.
  • Moreover, clinicians have strongly objected the therapy in pregnant and breast-feeding women.

Some of the precautions and interactions are : –

  • Shiatsu is not recommended for patients with very less bone density
  • Known to have disparate effects on liver and kidney in patients suffering from cirrhosis
  • Inappropriate for patients with kidney disorders
  • Not recommended to elderly patients 


Long AF.J Altern. The effectiveness of shiatsu: findings from a cross-European, prospective observational study. Complement Med. 2008 Oct;14(8):921-30. doi: 10.1089/acm.2008.0085. Erratum in: J Altern Complement Med. 2008 Nov;14(9):1175. PMID:18990043

Robinson N, Lorenc A, Liao X. The evidence for Shiatsu: a systematic review of Shiatsu and acupressure. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2011 Oct 7;11:88. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-11-88. Review.PMID:21982157

Brown CA, Bostick G, Bellmore L, Kumanayaka D.J. Hand selfShiatsu for sleep problems in persons with chronic pain: a pilot study. Integr Med. 2014 Mar;12(2):94-101. doi: 10.1016/S2095-4964(14)60010-8.PMID: 24666675

Makoto A.Aust Nurs Midwifery J. Shiatsu for women’s health. 2013 ep;21(3):51.PMID:24279106

Pirie ZM, Fox NJ, Mathers NJ. Delivering shiatsu in a primary care setting: benefits and challenges. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2012 Feb;18(1):37-42. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2011.07.001. Epub 2011 Aug 3.PMID:22196572

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