Be it a headache or migraine attack, we all wish it to go away in no time. Most people reach for over-the-counter pills to relieve the pain, but they can have side effects for many.
Whenever you are plagued with an intense headache or going through a painful migraine attack or its side effects like nausea, you can rely on acupressure, a traditional Chinese therapy used for thousands of years.
A study published in Medicine found that acupressure significantly reduced migraine-related nausea when compared with the conventional drug sodium valproate (SV).
The unimpeded flow of qi, or chi, which is the Chinese term for life energy, is the cornerstone of this ancient healing approach. According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), there are primary 12 meridians, or energy pathways, that carry our body’s life force.
As per Chinese medicine, there are several reasons which can lead to disease. One of the primary contributors being any obstruction to the seamless movement of our life energy which is often held responsible for triggering migraines and headaches as well.
The aim is to unblock these energy pathways by applying pressure on various points along these basic meridians, which will help improve your overall health, ease any existing pain, and restore balance in the body.
Why Acupressure for Pain?
Acupressure is essentially a less invasive form of acupuncture, which has been a standard practice in TCM for healing a multitude of maladies.
While acupuncture relies on the use of superfine needles to stimulate key points, acupressure involves applying pressure on specific trigger areas of the body using the fingers.
These key pressure points are referred to as acupoints. This noninvasive touch therapy offers a safe, effective, and drug-free way to alleviate pain using the simple power of touch, given that it’s done correctly.
A study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine reported that acupressure significantly improved pain conditions on not only the local points but also the distal acupuncture points in females with chronic neck pain.
Another 2018 study published in the Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies reported that both acupuncture and acupressure were significantly effective for reducing menstrual migraine days during the intervention period without any serious adverse events.
Does Acupressure Help Migraine Headaches?
Those that practice TCM believe acupressure relieves pain, including migraine symptoms, by targeting specific meridians. It is a functional, nonpharmacological intervention for reducing the incidence of chronic tension headache.
The ideal way to optimize the benefits of acupressure is to employ this therapy the minute you suspect a headache coming on, rather than waiting for it to actually hit.
Several foreboding signals, such as pressure around the temples, zigzag lines in your peripheral vision, blurred vision, sensitivity to sound, and stiffness in the neck, among others, can alert you to an impending migraine attack.
According to the Academy of Pain Medicine, nearly 45 million people suffer from chronic headaches every year, of which 28 million are riddled with migraines. These numbers shine a light upon the magnitude of this public health problem, with migraines and headaches figuring as the leading causes of outpatient and emergency department visits.
Painkillers are often the first line of treatment for anyone prone to debilitating headaches. Given that these medications come with a string of harmful side effects, the relief they provide is often at the expense of your overall well-being.
The best way to mitigate the damage is to tackle the problem before it reaches the level that medicinal intervention becomes indispensable.
Being well versed with muscle-specific massage therapies can help you address minor or moderate headache symptoms and reduce the need for nonprescription drugs.
A study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine suggests that 1 month of acupressure treatment is more effective in reducing chronic headache than 1 month of muscle relaxant treatment and that the effect remains 6 months after treatment.
Researchers and doctors suggest that acupressure therapy can help ward off a full-blown headache by relieving stress and muscle tension, promoting blood circulation, and possibly triggering the release of the body’s analgesic and feel-good hormones known as endorphins.
Who Should Avoid Acupressure?
Acupressure is beneficial in relaxing muscle and nerve tension to a certain degree. However, there are certain pressure points that must be avoided at all costs.
- Exerting undue pressure on the abdomen can prove detrimental for the fetus inside.
- Another problem area is the medial malleolus (technically termed as Sanyinjiao or SP 6), which is a spot located at the width of three fingers above the ankle bone. Rubbing this pressure point can stimulate pelvic and uterine muscle contractions and may even induce premature labor.
- Acupressure is also not recommended for people with a fractured bone.
- You should avoid this therapy when you are in the midst of a high fever episode.
- People who have diarrhea should refrain from getting an acupressure massage.
- People with osteoporosis can end up aggravating their condition by getting acupressure done.
- Acupressure has been found to be less effective in soft pressure points such as the stomach.
Acupressure Points for Headaches and Migraines
You do not have to use all of these points to ease your headache. Using just one or two of them can solve your problem. Most importantly, you can try acupressure at home on yourself or you can get help from an expert.
Stimulating the following acupressure points holds a lot of promise for relieving headaches and migraines.
1. Gates of Consciousness (GB 20 or Feng Chi)
The gates of consciousness is a combination of two acupressure points that have many profound health benefits.
These points can provide relief from headaches, tension, sinus issues, neck pain, irritability, and depression. Stimulation of these points also regulates circulation to the brain and is good for the overall immune system.
A study published in the Journal of Vocational Health Studies found that when acupressure was applied at the Fengchi point (GB20) 50 times for 28 days, migraine complaints decreased from 5 times a month to 3 times a month. No more complaints of nausea, hypochondrium pain, diarrhea, and insomnia were reported.
These points are located on each side of the spine at the base of the skull, in the hollow between the two vertical neck muscles. These points are approximately 4 finger widths apart.
Locate these points with your thumbs. Slowly tilt your head back as you gradually press these points, while taking long, deep breaths. Press these points for about 1 minute, a few times a day.
2. Joining the Valley (L 14 or He Gu)
This point is located on the web (fleshy area) between the thumb and index finger.
Using the thumb and index finger of your right hand, apply deep and firm pressure on the L 14 point of your left hand for 5 to 10 seconds. Repeat with the other hand. Do as needed until the pain dissipates.
When applying acupressure, try to relax and breathe deeply.
3. Third Eye Point (GV 24.5 or Yin Tang)
This acupressure point is also effective to get relief from headache. It balances the pituitary gland and can even be used to treat hay fever, indigestion, ulcer pain, insomnia, fatigue, tiredness, and eye strain.
This point also improves spiritual and emotional imbalances.
The third eye point is located between the eyebrows, near the indentation where the bridge of the nose meets the forehead.
Close your eyes and locate the point. Apply firm yet gentle pressure with your thumb on this point for 1 minute, and then release. Repeat as needed.
4. Pericardium (P 6 or Nei Guan)
Located on the largest crease of the inner wrist, between two large tendons and 3 finger widths below the base of your palm, the Nei Guan point falls in line with the thumb.
All you need to do is press the point with your index and middle fingers for 30 seconds. Then, apply similar pressure on the corresponding point on your other hand.
Continue alternating pressure application on either point, until nausea passes.
5. Above Tears (GB 41 or Zu Lin Qi)
To get relief from migraine pain instantly, the above tears point is also helpful.
This acupressure point is located on top of the foot, about an inch behind the webbing of the fourth and fifth toes, just at the groove between the bones.
Locate this point and apply firm yet gentle pressure with your thumb for a minute on each foot. While stimulating these points, it is important to breathe deeply.
6. Wind Mansion (GV 16 or Feng Fu)
This point is located at the center of the back of your head, at the midpoint between your ears, and just above the top of your spine.
Slightly tilt your head back and locate this point by finding the hollow under the base of the skull. Using your thumb, gently press at the point while pushing slightly upward for a couple of minutes. Also, apply pressure around the edges of the hollow.
7. Shoulder Well (GB 21 or Jian Jing)
Another pressure point that helps in treating headache as well as migraine pain is shoulder well. Stimulating this point also reduces neck stiffness, neck pain, and shoulder pain and helps treat nervousness, irritability, muscle spasms, and asthma.
This acupressure point is located on your shoulder, precisely halfway between the base of your neck and the outer point of your shoulder. It is about 1 or 2 inches out from the side of the lower neck.
Locate these points on both sides of your shoulders and use your thumb or any of your fingers to apply downward pressure to stimulate the points. Do it for 4 or 5 seconds, release for a few seconds, and repeat.
Some Other Effective Pressure Points
Bigger Rushing (LV 3 or Great Surge)
The bigger rushing acupressure point is also effective. Aside from headache and migraine pain, stimulation of this point can provide relief from foot cramps, eye fatigue, hangover, allergies, and arthritis pain. It is even good for people having poor concentration and fatigue.
This point is located on top of the foot, just near the valley between the big toe and second toe. It is about 1 or 1.5 inches back from the toes.
Sit comfortably and put your right foot up on your left thigh. Using your thumb, put pressure on the bigger rushing point for a couple of minutes. Repeat with the other foot. Continue the cycle two or three more times.
Facial Beauty (ST 3 or Stomach)
As the name suggests, it can also improve acne, skin blemishes, facial swelling, and poor complexion. It even helps tone facial muscles and improves circulation.
This point is located under the cheekbone, about 2 to 3 finger widths right under the middle of each eye.
Locate these points on both sides with your index fingers and apply firm pressure for about a minute. Make sure to breathe deeply while stimulating these points.
Heavenly Pillar (B 10 or Tianzhu)
This is a pair of acupressure points that are excellent for reducing headache and migraine pain. By stimulating these points, you can also reduce stress, anxiety, exhaustion, heaviness in the head, neck pain and stiffness, insomnia, and eye strain.
Heavenly pillar is also effective at treating thyroid imbalance.
These points are located a ½ inch below the base of the skull, on the muscles located a ½ inch outward from the spine.
Locate these points and firmly apply pressure with your thumbs or index fingers for a couple of minutes, while breathing deeply.
How Much Pressure is too Much?
You must remember that acupressure is intended to be a therapeutic experience rather than an uncomfortable one. Thus, before you go about practicing acupressure at home, you must learn the basics from a trained professional.
Although acupressure does not require the same level of precision or skill as acupuncture, you still need to familiarize yourself with its foundational principles before you can successfully perform this therapy at home.
Once you have done the necessary groundwork, it’s hard to go wrong with acupressure.
Applying the right amount of pressure, which figures somewhere between pain and pleasure, will do the trick.
If at any point the pressure is exceeding your endurance level, gradually attenuate it to a bearable degree.
Everyone has an individual threshold depending on their overall health, and the degree of pressure to be applied has to be adjusted accordingly.
The Final Word
According to the science of reflexology, one part of the body is connected to another and thus massaging one location can engender soothing effects in another area. Acupressure draws legitimacy from this line of reasoning.
Along with other nonpharmacological interventions such as herbal teas, ear plugs, ice packs, essential oils, visualization exercises, and playtime with pets, acupressure can help take the edge off your headache episodes.
Because migraine is a relatively severe condition, always trust your doctor to know best. These alternative therapies do not give you the license to side-step from the doctor-prescribed treatment.
The idea is to use acupressure purely as an adjunctive treatment to reduce the occurrence, duration, and intensity of headaches, in conjunction with the doctor-prescribed medications and lifestyle changes.
Although insufficient as a standalone migraine treatment, acupressure is unlikely to interfere with any medication or any other approach your physician may recommend.
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