Acupressure is a type of complementary therapy that may help to alleviate symptoms of migraine headaches. This technique involves stimulating distinct pressure points on different parts of the body.

Migraine is a neurological disorder that causes moderate to severe head pain and other symptoms. For some people, the condition is debilitating.

Acupressure therapy is an alternative medicine technique that involves applying manual pressure to distinct parts of the body called pressure points. The overall aim of acupressure is to alleviate pain and promote healing.

Acupressure is based on the same principles as acupuncture. Both techniques derive from ancient Chinese medicine, and both involve stimulating sensory nerves beneath the skin to release pain-relieving substances called endorphins.

This article discusses the scientific research into using acupressure to alleviate migraine symptoms. We also provide tips and advice for people who want to self-administer acupressure at home.

A person receiving acupressure and acupuncture on faceShare on Pinterest
Peter Dressel/Getty Images

Some evidence suggests that acupressure or acupuncture therapies can help with alleviating some of the symptoms of migraine.

A 2017 study found that acupuncture therapy may provide better relief of chronic migraine symptoms compared to Botox injections and medication. In this study, acupuncture therapy was also associated with fewer side effects.

A different 2017 study found similar results. Researchers noted that combining acupuncture with sodium valproate helped to reduce nausea in people living with migraine.

A later 2019 study investigated whether self-administered acupressure can improve sleep quality and fatigue among people living with migraine.

The researchers divided the participants into two groups: One group applied pressure to recognized pressure points, while the other applied pressure to “sham” pressure points. Neither group showed any improvement in sleep quality, but both groups showed reduced levels of fatigue. However, this reduction was greatest for the group administering acupressure to recognized pressure points.

A 2019 review found consistent evidence to suggest that acupuncture is safer and more effective than using medication to prevent migraine. However, the authors noted that more high quality research involving a wider range of people is necessary to confirm this effect.

There are several pressure points around the ear that may help to alleviate some migraine symptoms. Examples include:

  • The ear gate. Located between the top of the ear and temple. Rubbing or applying pressure to this point may provide some relief from facial pain or jaw pain.
  • The ear apex. Located at the tip of the ear. Applying direct pressure to this area may help reduce pain associated with migraine headaches.
  • The daith. A small piece of cartilage located at the opening of the ear. In a 2020 case study, a middle-aged woman experienced relief from cluster headaches after having her daith pierced. The researchers speculated that this pain relief was due to the piercing simulating acupuncture.

For headache relief, a person can try rubbing a pressure point in the hand called the “Hegu” or “LI-4.” This pressure point is located at the base of the thumb and index finger.

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center indicates that applying pressure to the Hegu may help to alleviate headache pain. A person should use the thumb of their opposite hand to apply firm pressure to the Hegu for around 5 minutes. They can repeat this multiple times per day, if necessary.

According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), practitioners should not apply pressure to this point when a person is pregnant.

Stimulating certain acupressure points on the foot may also help to alleviate migraine symptoms. Examples include:

  • Great Surge, Tai Chong, or Liver 3. Located about 1 to 2 inches from the base of the big toe and index toe. Applying pressure here may help with relieving insomnia or anxiety, and may lower blood pressure. This point is another one to avoid during pregnancy.
  • Above tears or point GB41. Located behind the fourth and fifth toes on the foot. Some evidence suggests that applying pressure to this point may help with reducing the number of migraine attacks a person has.
  • Moving point or Liver 2. Located between the big toe and index toe. Some evidence suggests that applying pressure to this point may help to alleviate pain associated with migraine headaches.

Stimulating other pressure points throughout the body may also help to bring relief from migraine symptoms. Some other points to consider include:

  • Third eye or Yin Tang. Located between the eyes. Applying gentle pressure to this pressure point may help to alleviate stress and improve energy levels.
  • Drilling bamboo or Urinary Bladder 2. Located on either side of the nose, near to where the eyebrows connect. Some research suggests that acupuncture in this location may be as effective as medication in preventing migraine attacks. However, the research is still in preprint and has not yet been subjected to peer review.
  • Gates of consciousness, Feng Chi, or Gallbladder 20. Located between the two vertical neck muscles at the base of the skull. Applying pressure to these points may help to alleviate headache pain and improve energy levels.
  • Shoulder well, Jian Jing, or Gallbladder 21. Located about halfway between the shoulder joint and the base of the neck. Applying pressure to these points may help to alleviate headache pain and reduce stress. In traditional Chinese medicine, practitioners should not use this point with pregnant people.

In order to stimulate pressure points, a person or therapist must apply firm pressure to the area. A person could also visit a licensed acupuncturist who will stimulate the pressure points using small needles.

In the United States, people can find board certified and licensed acupuncturists via the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.

Can a person do it at home? How?

A person can stimulate pressure points at home by following these steps:

  • Sit or relax in a comfortable position.
  • Use a thumb or finger to apply firm, deep pressure to the pressure point.
  • While applying pressure, make small, circular movements to help stimulate the pressure point.
  • Repeat the massage as frequently as desired throughout the day.

A person should stop applying pressure if they feel discomfort or if they begin to experience any new symptoms.

Where can a person go to get it done?

A person who is considering acupressure therapy can talk to their doctor or acupuncturist who may be able to recommend a licensed therapist.

Some chiropractors and acupuncturists offer acupressure massage. A person can check with their acupuncturist or chiropractor to see if they offer the service.

People interested in receiving acupuncture should make sure that they receive the therapy from a licensed therapist. They may also want to consider factors such as:

  • the therapist’s level of experience
  • the therapist’s area of expertise
  • the cost of individual therapy sessions

When seeing a pressure point therapist or acupuncturist for the first time, a person can expect to answer several questions about their health and the symptoms they are experiencing. The answers to these questions will help the therapist decide which pressure points to focus on.

The type of therapy a person chooses will determine what happens during the appointment. Both acupressure therapy and acupuncture therapy may involve the person removing some clothing so that the professional can access the pressure points they need to work on.

During an acupressure appointment, the therapist will stimulate the pressure points by applying firm pressure or massage.

During an acupuncture appointment, the professional will stimulate the pressure points using small single-use needles. The therapist will insert the needles into the different pressure points until the person experiences a sensation of pressure in the area.

In some cases, a professional may heat the needles or apply a gentle electrical current to the needles during treatment.

Acupressure therapy is a complementary or alternative therapy. A person should not use acupressure in place of medications or other migraine treatments that their doctor has recommended or prescribed.

Routine changes

Lifestyle factors play an important role in migraine management. The American Migraine Foundation provides the following self-care tips for migraine management:

  • being physically active
  • eating a healthy diet and avoiding migraine trigger foods
  • following a consistent sleep schedule
  • managing stress

Triggers to avoid

In some cases, migraine management may involve identifying and avoiding individual migraine triggers. Migraine triggers typically vary from person to person. Some common triggers include:

  • stress
  • irregular sleep patterns
  • alcohol consumption
  • caffeine consumption
  • dehydration
  • certain foods
  • certain smells
  • bright lighting
  • hormonal changes
  • weather changes
  • overuse of medication

Medical options

A doctor may prescribe medications to prevent migraine or to manage migraine pain and other symptoms.

Some people may find headache relief using an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever. In some cases, a doctor may prescribe medications called “triptans,” which specifically target migraine headaches.

Experts believe that migraine attaches occur when blood vessels around the brain widen or “dilate.” Triptans work by causing these blood vessels to narrow or “contract.”

A doctor or pharmacist may also recommend an anti-nausea medication to prevent nausea and vomiting.

A person should talk with their doctor if they experience migraine symptoms but have not yet received a full diagnosis. The doctor can help determine if the person is experiencing migraine, or symptoms of another underlying condition.

A person should also see a doctor if they have received a diagnosis of migraine and are experiencing more frequent migraine attacks or worsening symptoms. The doctor may be able to adjust the person’s current treatment plan.

People should also talk with a doctor before adding new or alternative therapies to their treatment plan.

Migraine is a neurological condition that causes moderate to severe head pain. Migraine pain can be accompanied by other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and fatigue.

Some people may find relief from migraine pain by manipulating pressure points on different areas of the body. A person can do this by self-administering acupressure or by receiving acupuncture from a licensed practitioner.

Acupressure is a complementary or “alternative” therapy that may work for some people but not for others. As a relatively low risk therapy, it should be safe for most people to try. However, a person should never use acupressure in place of other treatments their doctor has prescribed.