Migraine can be a debilitating, chronic health condition. While throbbing head pain is a common symptom of migraine attacks, it’s not the only one. Migraine episodes can also involve:
- blurry vision
- sensitivity to light
- sensitivity to sound
Traditional treatment for migraine includes lifestyle changes to avoid triggers, pain-relieving medications, and preventive treatments such as antidepressants or anticonvulsants.
For some people with migraine, stimulating pressure points on the body may provide relief. If you press on the point, it’s called acupressure. If you use a thin needle to stimulate the point, it’s called acupuncture.
Read on to learn about common pressure points used for migraine relief and what the research says.
Pressure points used for migraine relief include those on the ears, hands, feet, and other areas such as the face and neck.
Ear pressure points
Auriculotherapy is a type of acupuncture and acupressure focused on points on the ear. A 2018 research review found that auriculotherapy may help with chronic pain.
Ear pressure points include:
- Ear gate: Also known as SJ21 or Ermen, this point can be found where the top of your ear meets your temple. It may be effective for jaw and facial pain.
- Daith: This point is located at the cartilage just above the opening to your ear canal. A 2020 case report indicated that a woman found headache relief through a daith piercing, which may simulate acupuncture. However, there is insufficient evidence for this practice.
- Ear apex: This point is also called HN6 or Erjian, and is found at the very tip of your ear. It may help reduce swelling and pain.
Hand pressure points
Union valley, also called pressure point LI4 or Hegu, is located between the base of your thumb and index finger on each hand. Pressing on this point may reduce pain and headaches.
Foot pressure points
Acupoints in your feet include:
- Great surge: Also known as LV3 or Tai Chong, this point sits in the valley between the big toe and the second toe around 1-2 inches back from the toes. It may help decrease stress, insomnia, and anxiety.
- Above tears: This is also called GB41 or Zulinqi, and is located between and slightly back from the fourth and fifth toes. A
2017 studysuggested that acupuncture at GB41 and other points was better for reducing migraine episodes than Botox injections or medication.
- Moving point: This may be called LV2 or Xingjian. You can find it in the valley between your big and second toes. It may decrease pain in your jaw and face.
Additional pressure points on your face, neck, and shoulders may also relieve headache and other pain. They include:
- Third eye: This rests in the middle of your forehead just about your eyebrows and may be called GV24.5 or Yin Tang. A 2019 study found that acupuncture on points including GV24.5 improved energy and stress in a small group of U.S. military members.
- Drilling bamboo: Sometimes known as bamboo gathering, BL2, or Zanzhu, these are the two indented spots where your nose reaches your eyebrows. Research from 2020 found that acupuncture on BL2 and other points was as effective as medicine for reducing the frequency of migraine attacks.
- Gates of consciousness: This is also called GB20 or Feng Chi. It’s located at the two side-by-side hollow areas where your neck muscles meet the base of your skull. This point may help with migraine episodes and fatigue.
- Shoulder well: Also known as GB21 or Jian Jing, it sits at the top of each shoulder, halfway to the base of your neck. This pressure point may reduce pain, headaches, and neck stiffness.
Studies show that both acupressure and acupuncture may help relieve some migraine symptoms. Still, more research is needed.
The study found that acupressure combined with sodium valproate reduced nausea, whereas sodium valproate alone did not.
According to a study published in 2019, self-administering acupressure may also reduce fatigue for people with migraines. Feeling tired is a common migraine symptom.
A 2019 research review suggested that acupuncture may be more effective than medication for reducing the frequency of migraine episodes, with fewer negative effects. However, it noted that more studies need to be done.
Studies on related issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and multiple sclerosis have also shown improvements in combating pain with acupressure and acupuncture.
Make an appointment with a licensed professional to use acupressure or acupuncture to relieve your migraine symptoms. You may also see improvement by massaging your pressure points at home.
If you decide to give acupressure or acupuncture a try for your migraine symptoms, here’s what to expect:
- An initial evaluation including your symptoms, lifestyle, and health. This usually takes about 60 minutes.
- A treatment plan depending on the severity of your symptoms.
- Treatments consisting of either acupuncture needles or pressure points.
- If using needles, the practitioner may manipulate the needle or apply heat or electrical pulses to the needles. It’s possible to feel a mild ache when a needle reaches the right depth.
- Needles usually remain for about 10 to 20 minutes and should generally not be painful. Side effects to acupuncture include soreness, bleeding, and bruising.
- You may or may not respond immediately to treatment. Relaxation, extra energy, and symptom relief are common.
- You may not feel any relief, in which case it may not be for you.
The exact cause of migraine is unknown, but both genetics and environmental factors seem to be involved. Imbalances in brain chemicals may also cause migraine.
Changes in your brainstem and how it interacts with your trigeminal nerve may play a part, too. Your trigeminal nerve is a major sensory pathway in your face.
Migraine may be triggered by a number of things, including:
- certain foods, such as aged cheeses, salty foods, processed foods, or foods containing aspartame or monosodium glutamate
- certain beverages, such as wine, other types of alcohol, or caffeinated drinks
- certain medications, such as birth control pills or vasodilators
- sensory stimuli, such as bright lights, loud sounds, or unusual smells
- changes in the weather or barometric pressure
- changes in your hormones during menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause
- too much sleep or a lack of sleep
- intense physical activity
Women are up to
There’s no one specific test to allow your doctor to diagnose migraine accurately. Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms to make a diagnosis. They may also ask about your family medical history.
Your doctor will probably recommend lifestyle changes to help treat your migraine. They’ll likely encourage you to identify and avoid your migraine triggers, which vary from one person to another.
They may also suggest that you track your migraine episodes and possible triggers. Depending on your triggers, they may advise you to:
- change your diet and stay hydrated
- switch medications
- adjust your sleep schedule
- take steps to manage stress
There are also medications available to treat migraine attacks. Your doctor may recommend pain-relieving medications to manage your immediate symptoms.
They may also prescribe preventive medications to reduce the frequency or length of your migraine attacks. For example, they may prescribe antidepressants or anticonvulsants to adjust your brain chemistry or function.
Some alternative therapies may also provide relief. As mentioned, acupressure, acupuncture, massage therapy, and some supplements may help prevent or treat migraines.
For many people, stimulating pressure points is a low-risk way to treat migraine. Be aware that stimulating some pressure points may induce labor in pregnant women, though more research is needed.
If you have a bleeding disorder or are on blood thinners, you’re more at risk for bleeding and bruising from needle sticks.
Individuals with pacemakers should also be cautious with acupuncture using mild electrical pulses to the needles, as it can alter the electrical activity of the pacemaker.
Always talk to your doctor before trying at-home treatments or alternative therapies for migraines. They can help you determine which lifestyle changes, medications, and alternative therapies may give you the most relief.