Acupressure

Acupressure as a complimentary and alternative treatment to migraine headaches: an introduction

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).

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.

Does acupressure help migraine headaches?

Those that 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 the acupressure improves circulation, relieves stress, reduces tension and possibly releases the body’s natural pain killers 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 applies consistent pressure to this acupressure point had significantly 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 one month of acupressure was more effective than one month of treatment with muscle relaxers for easing chronic headaches, and these benefits sustained for six months after treatment.3

Acupressure points for migraine headaches

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

  • Gallbladder 20 or Feng Chi is commonly used for migraine, headache, 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 (two points on either side of the neck).
  • Gallbladder 21 or Jian Jing is commonly used for headaches, shoulder tension, and neck pain. It should not be used in pregnant women as 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 is 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 headache, stress, facial pain, toothaches, and neck pain. Since it may induce labor, it should not be used in pregnant women.
  • Pericardium 6 or Nei Guan is commonly used for nausea, upset stomach, and headaches. It is located three finger breadths below the wrist on the inner forearm in between the two tendons. (Some devices for motion sickness include a bracelet that applies pressure on this point.)
  • Triple Energizer 3 or Zhong Zhu is 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.1

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

Possible side effects of acupressure

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

Who should not receive acupressure treatment for migraines

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

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

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As always, the best source for advice on treating migraine is your own migraine specialist. These descriptions of natural remedies are provided only for informational purposes. You should begin no medication or supplement without first checking with your physician.

Written by: Emily Downward | Last review date: May 2018
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