Acupressure for Alternative Migraine Treatment

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: April 2023

Acupressure is a technique from traditional Chinese medicine that many people use for relief from pain. Some people with migraine get relief from their symptoms using acupressure. Sometimes called pressure acupuncture or acupuncture without needles, acupressure involves applying pressure to strategic points on the body (the same points used in acupuncture, in which thin needles are placed on the points).1

In traditional Chinese medicine, the energy flow or life force, known as qi or chi (pronounced "chee") flows through the body in meridians, or pathways. By applying pressure at specific points on these meridians, it is believed that the body’s natural energy flow will be rebalanced and symptoms of disease can be relieved. The pressure may be given using devices but is most often applied with fingers. Acupressure can be done by a practitioner, or it can be self-administered.1

Acupressure is often used for different forms of nausea and vomiting, such as nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy, pregnancy, surgery, and motion sickness.1

How does acupressure help migraines?

Those who practice traditional Chinese medicine believe acupressure relieves pain, including migraine symptoms by targeting those specific meridians. Other researchers and doctors believe migraines are relieved because acupressure improves:1

  • Circulation
  • Relieves stress
  • Reduces tension
  • Possibly releases the body’s natural painkillers called endorphins

One small study that evaluated the Nei Guan point for nausea with migraine found that women who wore a wristband commonly used for motion sickness (SeaBand) that applied consistent pressure to this acupressure point had much less nausea than women who did not use the wristband.2

Another study compared the use of several acupressure points or muscle relaxers for chronic headaches. Researchers found that 1 month of acupressure was more effective than 1 month of treatment with muscle relaxers for easing chronic headaches. These benefits lasted 6 months after treatment.3

Acupressure points for migraine

Several acupressure points are believed to help relieve migraine, including:1

  • Gallbladder 20 or Feng Chi – Commonly used for migraine, headaches, eye blurriness, fatigue, low energy, and flu. It is found by following the bone of the skull from behind the ears to where the neck muscles attach (2 points on either side of the neck).
  • Gallbladder 21 or Jian Jing – Commonly used for headaches, shoulder tension, and neck pain. It should not be used in pregnant people since it may induce labor. It is located in the middle of the shoulder muscle (halfway between the shoulder and the neck) and is accessed by pinching the muscle between the middle finger and thumb.
  • Large Intestine 6 or He Gu – Located on the hand, at the highest point of the muscle between the thumb and forefinger when the fingers are together. It is commonly used for headaches, stress, facial pain, toothaches, and neck pain. Since it may induce labor, it should not be used in pregnant people.
  • Pericardium 6 or Nei Guan – Commonly used for nausea, upset stomach, and headaches. It is located 3 finger breadths below the wrist on the inner forearm in between the 2 tendons. Some devices for motion sickness include a bracelet that applies pressure on this point.
  • Triple Energizer 3 or Zhong Zhu – Commonly used for headaches, shoulder or neck tension, and upper back pain. It is located in the groove between the tendons of the fourth and fifth finger, on the back of the hand.

To administer self-acupressure, apply strong pressure or firmly massage the acupoint for a few seconds to a few minutes. Relax and breathe deeply.

What are the possible side effects?

Some wristbands or other devices used to apply pressure, such as those used for motion sickness, may bruise the skin.

These are not all the possible side effects of acupressure. Talk to your doctor about what to expect with acupressure. You also should call your doctor if you have any changes that concern you when using acupressure.

Other things to know

If you are pregnant, you should avoid acupressure treatment. Certain pressure points have been known to induce premature labor.1

Do not apply pressure to acupressure points if they are located in areas of the skin where there are:

  • Bruises
  • Cuts
  • Breaks in the skin
  • Varicose veins

As always, the best source for advice on treating migraine is your own migraine specialist. Before beginning treatment for migraine, tell your doctor about all your health conditions and any other drugs, vitamins, or supplements you are taking. This includes over-the-counter drugs.

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