A short, illustrated guide to tsubo


I grew up in Japan, where we have a wonderful health care system and some of the best-trained masseuses in the world. It was so nice to be able to walk to the neighborhood orthopedist any time my back was out of whack or I had a crook in my neck — despite the fact that I pay for my own health insurance here in the US, I hardly ever go to the doctor because it's hard to get appointments, and when I do, I usually end up waiting an hour and paying some ridiculous amount for x-rays and lab tests.

The one good thing I learned living in America is how to rely on myself for routine maintenance rather than depending on the health care system. To make sure my back stays healthy, for example, I go to yoga class at least once a week and a Chinese massage place twice a month. I also have this funny book that my mom once gave me on tsubo, or pressure points.

Tsubo (also referred to as acupuncture points, or meridian points) originate from traditional Chinese medicine; by pressing down on specific parts of the body, the belief goes, you can release bad qi connected to that part and heal basic health problems like muscle pain and constipation. It's not scientifically proven, but tsubo stimulation often feels really good and is, in my opinion, definitely worth a shot when you consider the alternative — paying a shit ton of money to go to a doctor who will see you for two minutes and then tell you you need physical therapy or lots of drugs.

Here are a few you can try at home.

lower back.jpg

For lower back pain, find the pressure point at the end of your pinkie finger bone.


For insomnia, stimulate the center of the bottom of your heels. The book says to heat the area using moxibustion, but if you can't find it at your local drug store you can probably just use your finger or a heated pad.


Allergy symptoms may be relieved by poking the point between your two eyebrows or the sides of your nostrils with a toothpick.


The point three fingers out and two fingers down from your belly button is the tsubo that helps with constipation.

Images courtesy of Karada no Tsubo by acupuncturist Tomoyoshi Saito