Headaches can cripple even a grownup, the excruciating pain rendering people unable to function when it’s especially bad. At the very least, it can cause a dull pain and hamper alertness or leave you fatigued or nauseous.
Alternative and complementary therapies like acupressure and acupuncture aim to attack the problem from a different angle, working on massaging or applying pressure to specific trigger points, channels, and locations on your body to heal you from within.
Acupressure And The Types Of Headaches
Headaches are all too common, with tension headaches topping the list of the most widely occurring ones. With a tension headache, the muscles in your jaw, scalp, neck, and shoulders all tighten up, leading to the headache.
Whatever the root cause is, acupressure can help – be it underlying anxiety, stress, depression, or even sleep trouble.1
Migraines, another common type of headache that causes a lot of pain, can be quite severe and debilitating due to the added problems of light sensitivity, disturbed vision, sensitivity to smells and sound, nausea, and vomiting. These symptoms can last anywhere from 4 hours to as long as 72 hours.2
Acupressure has been used successfully to help reduce migraine, with anecdotal evidence for its benefits and formal studies on its effectiveness.
Such headaches occur over a month or two, in clusters, and are intensely painful. You may feel sharp deep pain around one of your eyes, accompanied by either a runny nose or a blocked one. The affected eye may also turn red and watery.3
A challenging type of headache to treat, some patients have benefited from self-care by massaging certain pressure points.
Sinus headaches occur when your sinuses become inflamed, possibly resulting in a feeling of dullness accompanied by throbbing pain in the upper section of your face. Your face may feel swollen and heavy. You might witness discharge from your nose (green or yellow mucus) and even have a fever.4
There are certain pressure points that can help relieve this kind of headache.
Know Your Pressure Points
If you are attempting this on your own, do not apply pressure for more than a couple of seconds.
If you are open to trying alternative treatments, know what pressure points you should stimulate to ease your headache symptoms. It is always recommended to go to a professional therapist to be treated, and have them train you in self care. Many pressure points can be dangerous for pregnant women, so avoid these if you have a baby on board.
1. The Urinary Bladder Channel UB10
For someone with chronic headache, especially tension headaches, acupressure points on the urinary bladder channel, specifically UB10, which is at the nape of your neck, are treated. This helps ease fatigue and improves alertness.5
2. The Gallbladder Channel GB20
The gallbladder channel GB20 is behind and on both sides of the sternocleidomastoid muscle. This is targeted for migraines in addition to other headaches. These can also ease vision problems linked to headaches, like blurriness.
You can locate these pressure points by feeling for the bone behind your ear or mastoid process and tracing it to the area to which the neck muscles attach to your skull at the back of your neck.6
3. The Gallbladder Channel GB21
This is another pressure point used for tension headaches. It also eases neck stiffness, stress, and tension in the shoulders.
To find it, feel for the point on your shoulder that’s midway between your spinal cord and your rotator cuff.7
4. The Triple Energizer Point Or TE3
If temporal headaches are the bane of your life, the TE3 may help. To find it, feel for the groove behind your knuckles, between your ring finger and little finger. It can also help with upper back, neck, and shoulder pain.8
5. The Large Intestine Pressure Point LI4
The LI4 of the large intestine pressure point on your hand can help ease stress-related headaches as well as those that cause facial or neck pain. Locate the highest point of the area where the muscle of the thumb and index finger meet, in the web between them.9
6. The BL2 Pressure Point
The BL2 is also used for treating headaches and those with the problem say it is especially useful for sinus headaches.10 This pressure point is located at the point above the bridge of your nose, near the end of your eyebrows.
7. The Governor Vessel Or GV20
This point helps strengthen the back, eases pain, helps you focus, clears your head, and soothes your nerves or anxiety.11 This is located at the top of your head, starting from the front hairline to the vertex of the head at the back.
8. The HN5 Point
In addition to GB20 and LI4, studies have also found that the HN5 point near your temples can help with cluster headaches.
However, this is a risky point for acupuncture. If done incorrectly, it can be fatal. So do this only under the care of a trained qualified practitioner. Gentle massaging of the temples may help.12
Evidence On The Effect Of Pressure Points
According to the National Headache Foundation, acupressure can be used to put pressure on trigger points in the body to help restore the balance of energy. The therapy has shown good results for some individuals who have migraines and tension headaches.13
Acupuncture, another form of therapy, uses needles at energy channels or meridians and the area where you experience pain to treat the problem. According to traditional Chinese medicine, migraines are a problem of “excess” and tension headaches are that of a “deficit” in the channels.14
The National Center for Complementary And Integrative Health lists acupuncture as a viable complementary therapy for headaches. However, this benefit is largely attributed to a combination of a placebo effect and intangibles like belief and expectations.15
The anti-seasickness acupressure bands apply pressure on the pressure point on your inner wrist that helps control nausea.
Yet, there is emerging research to back up the effectiveness of this alternative therapy. A preliminary study of people with migraines found that the nausea associated with this kind of headache could be brought under control using anti-seasickness acupressure bands, the kind that you wear when you board a sailboat or cruise ship.
The study consisted of long-time sufferers of migraines who reported an average level of nausea of 6.2 on a 0 to 10 scale. The bands helped bring down the number to 2.9 after just 30 minutes of use.16
Another study found that acupressure was more effective than muscle-relaxant treatment administered for the same duration (1 month). In fact, the results of the acupressure therapy lasted as long as 6 months after the actual treatment ended.17
|↑1||Headache, U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑2||More than “just a headache”. The Migraine Trust.|
|↑4||Sinus headache. NHS.|
|↑5||Lee, Eun Jin, and Susan K. Frazier. “The efficacy of acupressure for symptom management: a systematic review.” Journal of pain and symptom management 42, no. 4 (2011): 589-603.|
|↑6, ↑8||Acupressure for Headache or Neck and Shoulder Tension, UCLA Center for East-West Medicine.|
|↑7||Acupressure Point GB21: Gallbladder 21 or Jian Jing, UCLA Center for East-West Medicine.|
|↑9||Acupressure for Pain and Headaches, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.|
|↑10, ↑17||Hsieh, Lisa Li-Chen, Horng-Huei Liou, Liang-Huei Lee, Tony Hsiu-Hsi Chen, and Amy Ming-Fang Yen. “Effect of acupressure and trigger points in treating headache: a randomized controlled trial.” The American journal of Chinese medicine 38, no. 01 (2010): 1-14.|
|↑11||Shen, Ein-Yiao, Fun-Jou Chen, Yun-Yin Chen, and Ming-Fan Lin. “Locating the acupoint Baihui (GV20) beneath the cerebral cortex with MRI reconstructed 3D neuroimages.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2011 (2011).|
|↑12||Fofi, L., G. Allais, P. E. Quirico, S. Rolando, P. Borgogno, P. Barbanti, and C. Benedetto. “Acupuncture in cluster headache: four cases and review of the literature.” Neurological Sciences 35, no. 1 (2014): 195-198.|
|↑13||Alternative Headache Therapies. National Headache Foundation.|
|↑14||Schiapparelli, Paola, Gianni Allais, Sara Rolando, Gisella Airola, Paola Borgogno, Maria Grazia Terzi, and Chiara Benedetto. “Acupuncture in primary headache treatment.” Neurological Sciences 32, no. 1 (2011): 15-18.|
|↑15||Headaches: In Depth. National Center for Complementary And Integrative Health.|
|↑16||Acupressure Bands Relieve Migraine-Related Nausea. National Headache Foundation.|