How to Use Pressure Points to Relieve Headaches

Acupressure may be helpful for headaches and migraines

Pressure points for headaches are located in the hand, wrist, feet, and elsewhere. These are specific spots that, according to traditional Chinese medicine, can be physically manipulated to relieve headache pain and migraine pressure naturally.

Whereas acupuncture involves the insertion of small needles to stimulate specific spots on the body, acupressure uses physical touch at pressure points. Some studies have shown that this may improve blood flow and reduce muscle tension related to head pain.

This article explains what several pressure points for headaches are, and discusses the research on whether they're effective for migraine relief. It also explains where these pressure points are located, how to use the methods, and some acupressure devices you may wish to try.

Common Acupressure Points for Relieving Migraine Pain

Verywell / Jessica Olah

Locating Pressure Points for Headaches

Acupressure is the use of physical pressure in specific parts of the body called acupoints or pressure points. These points are used to release what the Chinese call qi, or the healthy flow of energy through the body.

Several such points are associated with headache relief. The pressure points for headaches include:

  • LI-4 (Hegu): At the point where the thumb and index finger join together, LI-4 is frequently recommended for headaches and can help with migraines. Stimulation here can help after onset. 
  • GB-20 (Fengchi): Another point associated with headache relief, GB-20 is on the top of the sternocleidomastoid, a muscle running from the back of the head to your shoulders. This spot is at the juncture of your neck and skull.
  • PC-6 (Nei Guan): This point is frequently targeted by acupressure devices, and is associated with headache relief and management of nausea. It’s found in the inner wrist, about three fingers away from the palm of the hand.  
  • M-HN-9 (Taiyang): Located at tender depressions of the temples on both sides of the head, pressing on M-HN-9 is another common acupressure strategy for headache relief.
  • M-HN-3 (Yintang): This is the spot in the center of your forehead at the halfway point between your eyebrows. Associated with relaxing the sympathetic nervous system, pressure here may help with headaches.
  • LIV-3 (Taichong): Located at the first metatarsal region—a depression near where the big toe and the long toe meet—LIV-3 is noted as a point that helps relieve head pain.

What Is the Daith Point?

Some recommend pressure or stimulation of the Daith point—the cartilage just above the opening of the ear. While some have found relief by piercing this area, and it may have utility, the evidence is mixed.

Using Pressure Points for Migraine Relief

Acupressure is often self-applied. It’s good to get guidance on these methods, and, in addition to professionals, there are many resources that can help. Specific techniques vary, but here are some general instructions:

  • Locate the point you’d like to stimulate (LI-6 and PC-6 may be particularly helpful).
  • Press on the area with your thumb. 
  • Continuously apply pressure while making small circles for one to two minutes.
  • Repeat the process on the opposing pressure point.

Acupressure is also performed by licensed massage therapists with training in this modality. Regular sessions may be helpful along with other treatments as a preventive measure. These professionals undergo significant training and are licensed by states to perform this work.  

Devices for Acupressure

Beyond using your own thumbs or relying on a therapist, there are also a number of devices that can help. Allowing users to benefit from acupressure while in their own homes, these devices target the appropriate points and stimulate them to spur the headache.

The most common of these devices are:

  • Aculief: A wearable clip that targets the L-I4 point on the hand, Aculief devices are simple, inexpensive, and very popular. Coming in two packs—one for each hand—the manufacturers claim that headache relief is typically felt within 30 minutes.
  • Hegu: Somewhat pricier is the Hegu acupressure ring, which also targets L-I4. A clamp that uses ball bearings to stimulate pressure points, this may also work on LIV-3, on the foot. This device is expected to provide relief within 20–30 minutes.
  • Seaband Antinausea Wristband: Designed to manage nausea and vomiting associated with migraines, the Seaband (which is washable) is worn around the wrist and targets the PC-6 points. Found in some research to be effective, this device provides symptom relief without the side effects of drugs.
  • Byriver Acupressure Slippers: Another wearable, but for the feet, Byriver’s acupressure slippers have massage buttons that target pressure points in the foot. The effect on migraines is less clear here, though they do promote blood circulation and can stimulate L-I3 (area between the big and long toes).

Do Pressure Points Work for Migraines?

Though there’s more work to do, a significant body of evidence suggests that acupressure and the stimulation of pressure points can help with migraine. This technique has been shown effective for other types of pain, and studies have demonstrated a myriad of effects, including:

  • Efficacy against primary headaches: A wide-ranging review of research into acupressure for primary headache disorders, including migraine, found some evidence that it can help reduce the frequency, severity, and duration of attacks. However, the authors cautioned that more research is needed, and some of the formative studies were lacking.
  • Effective for nausea: Several studies have found acupressure to be successful in managing nausea associated with migraines. In a study of 40 people who have migraine with aura, wearers of the Seaband (applying pressure to the PC-6 acupoint) experienced significantly less nausea at 30, 60, and 120 minutes after onset.
  • Prevention of attacks: A study of 28 patients with chronic headaches found those who underwent regular acupressure therapy for one month had a lower incidence of attacks than those using muscle-relaxing drugs. This suggests that acupressure can help with migraine pain, though more research is needed.

Notably, acupuncture—which involves stimulating the same points as acupressure—has shown efficacy in reducing the incidence and severity of attacks. This suggests that stimulation of pressure points can have utility.

That said, there are still questions about the overall efficacy of acupressure for migraine, and this technique should be used along with other means of migraine management.

When to Seek Professional Treatment

There are several cases where, even if you live with migraines and are treating them, you and/or a loved one will need emergency help. In these cases, skip pressure point therapy and call 911:

  • Your headache is the most severe you’ve ever had.
  • You have speech problems, motor difficulties, and/or visual disturbances.
  • You’ve lost your balance.
  • The headache sets on very quickly.

If you don't have signs of needing urgent help, but any of the following apply to you, call your healthcare provider:

  • The pattern or intensity of your headaches has shifted.
  • Treatment approaches you’re taking are no longer working.
  • You’re experiencing significant side effects from medications.
  • You need pain medications three or more days a week.
  • Your headaches get worse when you’re lying down.

 A Word From Verywell

Migraine can be tough to take on because there is rarely a singular, easy way to manage it. If you’re living with this condition, you know that you generally will need multiple strategies to prevent and treat attacks. Among these, acupressure is certainly worth considering.

If you’re interested in incorporating this practice, be sure to ask your doctor about it and other methods of taking on migraines.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Which pressure point should I stimulate first to relieve a migraine?

    While many pressure points can be helpful, LI-4 (Hegu), between the thumb and index finger, is most often recommended for relief. Make sure to apply pressure to this spot on both hands.

  • What can trigger a migraine?

    Migraines differ for each person, but it's common for stress, anxiety, and poor sleep patterns to contribute to them. So can bright or flashing lights, and the glow of device screens. Foods, such as dark chocolate, red wine, and caffeine, can cause migraines. So do hormonal changes and using too many pain-killing medications (medication overuse headache, or MOH).

  • What are drug-free ways to treat migraine?

    In addition to acupressure, drug-free remedies for headache prevention include:

    • Lifestyle changes, such as keeping a diary, managing weight and improving sleep
    • Yoga and mindfulness practice, including deep breathing and guided meditation
    • Vitamins and supplements, such as riboflavin, magnesium, and butterbur
    • Neuromodulation devices, which use mild electrical or magnetic pulses for treatment

10 Sources
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.
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  3. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Acupressure for pain and headaches.

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  8. American Migraine Foundation. Headache hygiene: what is it?.

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  10. American Migraine Foundation. Neuromodulation for migraine treatment.

By Mark Gurarie
Mark Gurarie is a freelance writer, editor, and adjunct lecturer of writing composition at George Washington University.