Shiatsu is a form of traditional Japanese bodywork which stimulates the body’s natural healing ability by applying gentle pressure to points across the body.

The philosophy underlying Shiatsu is vital energy (‘Ki’ in Japanese) flows throughout the body in a series of channels called ‘meridians’. For many different reasons Ki can stop flowing freely and this then produces a symptom. Shiatsu is based on the underlying principles of oriental medicine, as is acupuncture.

As the Ki changes, the symptoms associated with a lack of flow will gradually improve. Shiatsu is a therapy that works on the individual as a complete being – not just the physical body but also on an emotional and/or mental level. By balancing out the flow of energy you feel more harmonious and relaxed.


Shiatsu may help people with chronic pain who have problems falling and staying asleep according to research published in the Journal of Integrative Medicine in 2014.

Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep are common problems for persons living with pain. Research demonstrates that sleep problems are, in turn, related to exacerbation of chronic pain. A small pilot study involved research experts asking nine people with musculoskeletal pain questions about their sleep habits, problems and pain. They were taught hand-Shiatsu techniques to use before bedtime. The results showed that after two weeks and eight weeks of treatment, participants reported falling asleep faster (sometimes even while administering treatment) and sleeping for longer.

The European Shiatsu Federation commissioned Professor Long at the University of Leeds to look at the research and documentation of experiences and effects of Shiatsu across Europe. The aim was to provide a platform from which to solidly describe Shiatsu and its benefits. The results showed that:

  • 89% of Shiatsu receivers felt calmer and more relaxed

  • Up to 60% of regular Shiatsu receivers slept better

  • Receivers rated their symptoms as significantly reduced throughout the 6 month study

  • 86% said that Shiatsu was effective in treating stress and tension, structural and postural problems, low energy and fatigue

  • Overall, Shiatsu receivers adopted a more relaxed, healthier and balanced approach to life

  • Reduced use of conventional medicine

Another study showed that Shiatsu has a considerable and important effect on pain of any cause, and more specifically:

  • Age was not a definitive parameter to the pain improvement. Patients of 40 years old and 60 years old experienced improvements equally.

  • Grief and psychological factors played a frequent role in their pain profiles.

  • Compliant patients experienced faster and better long term results.

All the outpatients they saw were suffering from chronic, non-malignant-related pain. Shiatsu offered pain relief and improved the quality of life of those involved in the study. Patients praised the feeling of support from them after their doctors had run out of many other options in pain management. Almost every patient expressed feelings of relaxation and relief. All commented on the unique experience of being treated as an individual with a particular health issue, and not just as an impersonal “medical statistic.”

A Study of the Effects of Shiatsu on Pain Management at the Pain Management, Clinic of the University Aretaieion Hospital, Athens, Greece by Maria Gryllaki.


Each Shiatsu treatment lasts approximately one hour. The session usually takes place on a padded mat (futon) at floor level, although it is possible to receive Shiatsu sitting on a chair if you are unable to lie down. Shiatsu is unique in that the client remains fully clothed. Following a treatment, there can be a feeling of increased vitality and you may feel invigorated yet relaxed.

Your Shiatsu practitioner will consider your state of health, the symptoms you are experiencing and, depending on your constitution and general energy levels, will use a variety of techniques to improve your energy flow. These may include gentle holding, pressing with palms, fingers and thumbs on the meridians and when appropriate, rotations and stretches.

About the author:

Samantha Haywood, General Manager of the Shiatsu Society (UK).


Author: Samantha Haywood
Copyright © 2023 Samantha Haywood. All rights reserved

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