Migraine Relief: How to Use Pressure Points to Treat a Migraine

Studies have shown that acupressure may be a beneficial, natural way to relieve some of the pain and pressure that people experience with headaches and migraines. Read more about migraine relief pressure points, how to stimulate them, and more.

Woman receiving acupressure between the eyes at an acupuncture clinic - stock photo

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 What Are Migraines?

Migraines are attacks of severe headaches and other symptoms that last anywhere from four hours to several days. This condition is a primary headache disorder, meaning that it arises on its own, not due to other diseases, conditions, or injury.

Occurring in about 12% of the population, migraines affect people of all ages and sexes but are most commonly seen in cisgender women (whose gender identity is that assigned at birth), as well as those with a family history of the condition.

Migraine Symptoms

Migraine attacks progress through several stages, and symptoms vary throughout its course. These symptoms include:

  • Headaches: Migraine headaches are moderate to severe in intensity, described as throbbing or severe, and often localized on one side of the head. The pain can also move throughout the attack and can last up to 72 hours.
  • Sensitivity to stimuli: Sensitivity to light, sounds, or certain smells is another hallmark of attacks. These stimuli can make migraines worse or prolong their duration.
  • Nausea: Feeling nauseated, vomiting, or both are also frequent symptoms, often occurring when the headaches are at their worst.
  • Physical weakness: Muscle weakness and fatigue can be symptoms of attacks. Some people experience temporary paralysis on one side of the body.
  • Aura: Some people have what’s called migraine with aura. In these cases, headache attacks are preceded or accompanied by visual disturbances, temporary blindness in one eye, seeing flashing lights or lines, numbness or tingling on the skin, ringing in the ears, and changes in speech patterns.   
  • Other symptoms: Migraines can also cause double vision, dizziness, and changes in your sense of smell or taste. Some people experience elation, depression, restlessness, or sleep disturbances due to the condition.

What Can Trigger a Migraine?

Like some other headache disorders, migraines can also be brought on by certain triggers. These vary from person to person, with the most common being:

  • Experiencing stress or anxiety
  • Bright, flashing, or fluorescent lights
  • Inconsistent or poor sleep
  • The glow of monitors, devices, or other screens
  • Foods like dark chocolate, cured meats, pickled foods, fermented items, and aged cheeses
  • Red wine, other alcoholic beverages, and caffeine
  • Hormonal changes, especially menstruation, menopause, and hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
  • Using too many pain-killing medications (medication overuse headache, or MOH)

How Can Acupressure Treat Migraine Headaches?

A traditional Chinese medical approach, acupressure is the use of physical pressure in specific parts of the body, called acupoints or pressure points. This pressure promotes blood circulation and relieves physical tension, which can help with migraine attacks.

Several such points are associated with headache relief, including:

  • 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.

Daith Piercing

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.

Ways to Stimulate Migraine Relief Pressure Points

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 generally, here’s what you can do:

  • 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.
  • 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).

Research on Migraines and Pressure Points

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.

Research Is Ongoing

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. Some studies found little evidence of acupressure’s effect on pain and prevention, and research is ongoing.

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. Call 911 if:

  • 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.

Furthermore, several cases warrant calling your doctor, including:

  • 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.

Ways to Prevent Migraines

Migraine prevention is a multifaceted process. It can involve everything from taking certain medications to making significant lifestyle changes and using other techniques. 

Preventive Medications and Treatments

Several classes of drugs that may be prescribed to prevent migraines from forming are:

Botox (OnabotulinumtoxinA) injections to specific regions on the temples, head, and neck are also considered in difficult cases. This therapy is effective but temporary, with treatments required every three months.

Lifestyle Changes

Changes in your lifestyle are another common means of minimizing attacks. Several steps can help, such as:

  • Keep a headache diary.
  • Eat regularly.
  • Get regular sleep
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Manage your weight.
  • Promote relaxation.
  • Use biofeedback (sensing and modifying certain body functions).

 Mindfulness and Yoga

Promoting relaxation through regular yoga and mindfulness techniques is also effective in preventing attacks, especially when paired with other treatments. Studies have found taking part in regular yoga reduces both the frequency and the severity of migraines.

Additionally, mindfulness techniques and meditation have also been shown to help. These involve learning ways to focus on the moment, on your experiences, and on your needs. It also may require techniques like deep breathing, guided meditation, or visualization.   

 Vitamins and Natural Treatments

Some vitamins and mineral supplements may also be recommended as they may help prevent attacks. These are generally meant to work along with other approaches:

  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2)
  • Magnesium
  • Feverfew
  • Butterbur
  • Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

Neuromodulation

Another approach involves using neuromodulation devices, which transmit mild electrical or magnetic pulses to alter brain activity. Used both to manage and prevent attacks, these devices have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA):  

  • The single pulse transcranial stimulator is a handheld unit that is pressed against the temples or other strategic parts of the head.
  • The transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulator is also handheld. It’s used to direct mild electricity to the vagus nerve (running from the brain stem to the abdomen), which is associated with pain signaling.
  • The transcutaneous supraorbital neurostimulator emits electrical signals to the supraorbital nerves around the eyebrows. It's both for prevention and for acute attacks.
  • A headset that delivers electricity to multiple points on the head was approved for use in March of 2021. This device has been shown to help with not only pain, but the associated light and sound sensitivity.

 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

  • Can you use pressure points to relieve nausea from a migraine?

    The full extent of the efficacy of acupressure for migraine is still being researched, but there's considerable evidence of its effect on nausea. One study found that, alongside drug therapies, regular stimulation of the acupoints, DU-20 (Bahui), GB-20 (Fengchi), EX-HN5 (Taiyang), and PC-6 (Neiguan), reduced nausea in patients.

    Another study specifically on PC-6, which is located in the center of your wrist, about three finger lengths from the palm, found it to be effective in relieving nausea. In a study of 40 women with migraines, pressure on this acupoint applied after an attack reduced nausea and vomiting.

  • Which migraine relief pressure points can you use to treat a migraine quickly?

    Several acupoints are associated with migraine relief. The most common of these are:

    • LI-4 (Hegu), located at the fleshy intersection between the thumb and index finger. It’s the area that bulges when you bring your thumb and index together.
    • GB-20 (Fengchi) is at the point where your skull meets your neck, at the top of the sternocleidomastoid muscle, running from the back of the head to the front of the shoulders.
    • PC-6 (Nei Guan), about three finger lengths from the palm of the hand in the inner wrist, may help with nausea associated with migraine attacks.
    • M-HN-9 (Taiyang) is the tender spot on either side of the head in the temple.  
  • 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.

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14 Sources
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