Migraine pressure points: Does acupressure work?
By Dr. Chelsea Grow, board-certified neurologist and headache specialist Mar 29, 2023 • 4 min
Although there are medications for treating migraine pain, some people still struggle to get relief. If you’re investigating complementary interventions, you’re likely to encounter acupressure, as many influencers and natural remedy sites say it can work wonders for relieving migraine pain or stopping migraine attacks altogether. Read on to find out what the science says about this complementary therapy.
What is acupressure?
Acupressure is a practice that involves placing pressure on certain points of the body. It emerged from acupuncture, a traditional Chinese medical remedy where small needles are inserted into the skin to relieve pain and stimulate healing. The goal of acupressure is to stimulate the same areas but without needles.
What are acupoints?
When you perform acupressure, you target key points on the body. These points are known as acupoints. Acupuncture practitioners target different acupoints in hopes of producing specific results, such as alleviating pain in a certain area of the body.
Does acupressure work for migraines?
There is considerable anecdotal evidence that acupressure works for migraines. However, only a few large studies have been conducted in the U.S. in recent years.
Acupuncture has been more widely studied. A systematic review of studies conducted in 2020 found that acupuncture was slightly more effective than medications for preventing migraines and was much less likely to cause side effects. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) reports that at this time there is moderate-quality evidence that acupuncture may reduce the frequency of migraines.
What’s not clear is how much of the potential pain-relieving effects of stimulating acupoints is due to real changes in the body or due to a belief in its effectiveness, a phenomenon known as the “placebo effect.” Some individuals believe that pressing acupoints releases feel-good brain chemicals called endorphins to relieve pain. However, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to definitively prove this.
Although acupressure isn’t a mainstream treatment for migraines, it may be worth considering if there are no underlying health issues that might make it unsuitable for you.
Is acupressure safe?
Acupressure is unlikely to cause side effects in people who are generally in good health. People who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant may not be able to safely use acupressure. The complementary intervention also shouldn’t be used in areas where there is an open wound, swelling, an infection or a recent blood clot.
How to perform acupressure for migraines
The acupressure point for headaches is located on the hand in the web of skin between the index finger and thumb. To stimulate this area:
- Turn your hand so that your palm is facing the floor
- Pinch your thumb and index finger together
- Locate the highest point of the muscle
- Relax your fingers, and press or rub on that point for 30 seconds. You should be able to feel the pressure but it shouldn’t cause pain.
- Repeat up to five times per day
If you feel dizzy or have any other unexpected symptoms, discontinue acupressure.
Before trying acupuncture or any other complementary remedy for migraines, talk to your healthcare provider. They can help determine how likely the intervention is to benefit you and discuss any potential side effects with you. Don’t stop taking prescription medications for migraines without first speaking with your healthcare provider.
Published March 2023.