If you are one of the 29.5 American adults affected by migraine attacks, you know that a migraine is not just a “bad headache.”
Migraine attacks can be debilitating, causing throbbing, pulsating, or stabbing pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, vision changes, and sensitivity to light and sound.
In addition to medications and lifestyle changes, treating migraine attacks with pressure points is another popular at-home option you may want to explore to manage migraine attacks.
In this article, I’ll talk about whether pressure points work for migraine, how to apply pressure to them, and other treatment options for migraine attacks. I’ll also talk about when you should see a doctor or healthcare provider.
Do Pressure Points Work for Migraines?
Few treatments work universally for everyone who suffers from migraine attacks.
Research shows that for some people, stimulating pressure points in a therapy called acupressure may help relieve migraine pain.
It may also address migraine-related symptoms like nausea and fatigue.
Pressure points can be stimulated by either acupressure or acupuncture.
You can have a licensed professional perform acupressure or acupuncture therapy.
You may also perform acupressure on yourself at home.
If you want to try acupressure on yourself, or if you simply want a better understanding of the different pressure points, the following explores each pressure point and how it may help, as well as how to properly stimulate it.
While there are many pressure points for different types of relief, the areas that may support migraine care are on the ears, hands, feet, face, and neck.
Ear pressure points
Pressure points on the ears may help with pain management.
Ear pressure point locations include:
- Ermen: Also known as the Ear gate or SJ21, this is found at the point where the ear touches the temple, applying pressure here can help with jaw and facial pain and tension.
- Ear apex: Also known as Erjian or HN6, this point is found at the highest point of the ear. It can help with pain and swelling.
- Daith: This point is found on the cartilage right above the ear canal opening. It can help with headache relief. Some acupuncturists can apply seeds to promote ongoing pressure at this location for relief that lasts for several days or up to a week. You can also purchase ear seeds to use on your own with acupressure. Be careful to apply them to the right place for relief.
Hand pressure points
- Union valley: Also known as Hegu or LI4, this point is found between the base of the thumb and index finger on the back of the hand. It is believed that applying pressure to it can help with headache-related pain.
Foot pressure points
Pressure points in the feet may help with stress, sleep problems, and head pain.
Foot pressure point locations include:
- Moving point: Found in the space between the big toe and the second toe, it can help with pain in the face or jaw, such as tension or migraine-related head pain. (Also known as LV2 or Xingjian.)
- Great surge: Found between the big toe and the second toe, 1-2 inches back, it can help with stress, anxiety, and sleep problems. (Also known as LV3 or Tai Chong.)
- Above tears: Found in the space between and slightly back from the fourth and fifth toes, it can help with reducing migraine attacks. (Also known as GB41 or Zulinqi.)
Other pressure points
Pressure points on the face and neck may also help to alleviate head pain:
- Third eye: Also known as Yin Tang or GV24.5, this point is found at the center of the forehead, just above the eyebrow line. When stimulated among other points in research studies, acupuncture of this point has been shown to alleviate stress and fatigue.
- Gates of consciousness: Also known as Feng Chi or GB20, this point is found at the base of the neck where the skull meets the neck muscles. At this location, the point is found in the two hollow areas that are side by side. It is believed that this point can help with migraines and fatigue.
- Drilling bamboo: Also known as Zanzhu, Bamboo Gathering, or BL2, this point is found at the indentation where the nose touches the bone behind the eyebrows. It is believed that pressure on this point can help with migraines and head pain.
How to Properly Apply Pressure
When performing self-acupressure, you need to use enough pressure, but not too much.
To start, do the following:
- Locate the pressure point you are going to focus on. Double check your placement.
- Place your index finger or thumb on the pressure point. It should be just enough pressure to indent the skin slightly.
- Move the thumb or finger in slow circles, keeping pressure even.
- After every few circles, slightly increase the pressure until you start to feel your muscles relax beneath the finger or thumb.
- Continue the pressure point circles for at least a minute. You may feel a dullness or achy feeling, which is a normal response to acupressure. You should never feel a stabbing or sharp pain.
You can repeat stimulation of each acupressure point after several minutes if you do not notice improvement. You can focus on just one pressure point, or multiple points.
Where to get acupressure or acupuncture done professionally
If you want to find a licensed professional who offers acupuncture or acupressure therapy, ask your healthcare provider for a recommendation.
Once you locate a professional, verify that they are licensed and practice proper hygiene.
If they are practicing acupuncture, verify that the provider is using sterile procedures, since needles are involved.
Acupuncture and acupressure sessions can vary in cost depending on where you live and the type of treatment you are receiving.
In some cases, insurance may cover alternative therapies.
You may also be able to use health savings accounts for acupuncture or acupressure therapy.
If you have never visited a practitioner for acupuncture or acupressure, you may not know what to expect.
- If it is your first visit, or you have not seen the practitioner for a long time, they will do an intake evaluation. This will include discussion of symptoms, lifestyle, and overall health. It may take 30-60 minutes.
- The practitioner will typically pick 1-2 things to focus on in your initial session and treatment plan.
- If you are receiving acupuncture, the session may be paired with heat treatment to relax muscles.
- Acupuncture needles may cause a slight sting or dull ache when they are initially inserted. You should not continue to feel them after a few seconds. If you do, or feel any discomfort, let your practitioner know. The goal is to have you relax while the acupuncture session continues. Needles are typically left in for 10-20 minutes.
After a session, it is possible to notice tiny pinprick bruises where the needles were inserted. You may also feel tired or a little sore.
In some cases, effects of acupuncture or acupressure can be felt immediately. At other times, it may take a few sessions before results are noticed.
Other Treatment Options
If you are looking for medication-free treatment options for migraine, but acupressure or acupuncture are not right for you, other therapies are available.
Stress management therapies may decrease the frequency or severity of migraine episodes.
These therapies include:
- Yoga: This form of exercise that can promote flexibility, strength, and resilience. It may also decrease migraine attacks when it is performed for at least 3 months. Consistency is important with a yoga practice, but it does not have to be daily. You do not have to be flexible or limber to do yoga. Many programs exist for people who are unable to do complex poses, are new to yoga, or who use a wheelchair.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: Also known as CBT, this is a type of talk therapy that focuses on reframing views of challenging situations, aimed at reducing stress, supporting better boundaries, and promoting positive outlook and well-being. For people who suffer from migraines, CBT can reduce the frequency of attacks and intensity of pain.
- Meditation: Meditation can help reduce the occurrence of migraines and negative moods. However, in order to be effective, it needs to be practiced regularly. Results may not be noticeable for up to 20 days.
When to See a Medical Provider
If you are interested in alternative methods for addressing migraine pain, your doctor or healthcare provider can help you understand the evidence behind these practices and what may be most effective for your specific situation.
If you notice new or worsening head pain, see a doctor or healthcare provider.
Do not try to address pain at home if your headaches are severe, if you develop a new type of headache, or if your headaches come with other symptoms like weakness on one side of the body or problems speaking.
If you are taking anticoagulants, have a pacemaker, or have other conditions, ask your doctor before pursuing acupuncture or alternative therapies to avoid potential problems, side effects, or interactions.
How K Health Can Help
Did you know you can have a primary care doctor online?
Check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed, text with a healthcare provider in minutes through K Health.
K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and is based on 20 years of clinical data.
Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
The prevalence and burden of migraine and severe headache in the United States: updated statistics from government health surveillance studies. (2015).
A randomized controlled trial of acupressure as an adjunctive therapy to sodium valproate on the prevention of chronic migraine with aura. (2017).
The impact of self-administered acupressure on sleep quality and fatigue among patients with migraine: A randomized controlled trial. (2018).
Does auriculotherapy have therapeutic effectiveness? An overview of systematic reviews. (2018).
Acupuncture and botulinum toxin A injection in the treatment of chronic migraine: A randomized controlled study. (2017).
Feasibility and Acceptability of a Brief Acupuncture Intervention for Service Members with Perceived Stress. (2020).
Stress and migraine. (2013).
Effectiveness of yoga therapy in the treatment of migraine without aura: a randomized controlled trial. (2007).
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Migraine Headache: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. (2021).
A reanalysis of a randomized trial on meditation for migraine headaches: Distraction is not enough but meditation takes time. (2019).