Acupuncture vs. Acupressure: what's the difference?

And, more importantly, are acupuncture and acupressure covered by a Flexible Spending Account?

Both of these treatments are eligible for reimbursement with a Letter of Medical Necessity (LMN) with a flexible spending account (FSA), health savings account (HSA) or a health reimbursement arrangement (HRA), but they have some crucial differences. Let's explore them!

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An Overview

Acupuncture and acupressure are popular examples of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), which refers to various forms of alternative therapies that fall outside the realm of mainstream medicine. Nearly 40 percent of American adults report using some form of CAM technique, and many can be combined with traditional treatments in a tactic called "integrative medicine." Two of the most popular CAM treatments available are acupuncture and acupressure, and while based in the same Eastern philosophy of medicine, they vary in what medical conditions they treat and how they're performed.


Acupuncture is a medical technique that has deep roots in thousands of years of Asian medicine that concentrates on the body's patterns of energy flow, also known as Qi, disruptions of which are believed to cause disease. It is believed that this energy flows through meridians throughout the body, and it is theorized that acupuncture can correct imbalances in this energy flow at specific "acupoints" close to the skin to treat a wide variety of medical conditions. During an acupuncture session, needles are inserted into specific acupoints on the body, and typically between 1 and 12 of these points will be used each time. They are inserted just under the skin, and may sometimes penetrate down to the muscle level depending on the condition being treated.

Acupuncture is primarily used as a form of pain relief, and while results may vary greatly between patients, promising results have emerged in the treatment of a number of specific medical conditions. For instance, acupuncture has proven effective in reducing nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy, as well as reducing discomfort from dental pain and the rehabilitative process following major surgery. It has also been known to relieve pain associated with fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, labor pains, and muscle and joint injuries.


Acupressure is often referred to as "acupuncture without needles," as it applies the same principles to treat specific medical conditions, promote relaxation and channel the body's own ability to naturally heal itself. As opposed to needles in the practice of acupuncture, acupressure uses prolonged finger pressure to concentrate on acupoints that lie along meridians or channels in the body. In many ways, acupressure shares the philosophy behind acupuncture and applies it to the practice of massage therapy by focusing on alleviating pain through acupoint manipulation.

Acupressure is primarily used as a means of pain relief, reducing tension in sore muscles and to promote deep states of relaxation, similar to massage therapy. Because of its concentration on acupoints and their relation to the body's overall balance, acupressure practitioners have also developed techniques that can treat conditions like fibromyalgia, headaches, neck and back pain and much more.

Learn more about eligible expenses via the FSA Eligibility List

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