According to Chinese medicine and reflexology, pressing on specific spots on the back of the neck, face, shoulders, and hands may help you relieve headaches.

Experiencing the pain and discomfort of a headache is incredibly common. If you’re looking for a more natural way to treat your headache, you may want to think about acupressure and pressure points.

Pressure points are parts of the body believed to be extra sensitive, able to stimulate relief in the body. Practitioners of reflexology, a discipline of Chinese medicine, believe that touching pressure points in a certain way can:

  • improve your health
  • ease pain
  • restore balance in the body

What is reflexology?

Reflexology is the study of how one part of the human body is connected to another. This means you might have to massage a different location — such as your hand — to treat a different area, such as your head. You’ll reach for the right pressure points to ease your pain.

If you want to learn more about treating your headache this way, it’s important to understand how to do so correctly. We explain what science says and give you some pressure points to try next time your head hurts.

There’s not too much science that supports the use of reflexology to treat headaches, and the studies we have are small and need to be expanded.

However, there are a few studies that have looked into how massage therapy on the head and shoulders can relieve headaches. This sometimes involves stimulating pressure points on the head.

In one small study from 2002, scientists investigated how massage might help four adults who were experiencing chronic tension headaches, defined as experiencing tension headaches two to three times per week for 6 months.

In the study, the massages lowered the number of headaches in each study participant within the first week of treatment. By the end of the treatment period, the average number of headaches each study participant experienced fell from almost seven headaches per week to just two per week. The average length of a study participant’s headache also decreased by half during the treatment period from an average of 8 hours to an average of 4.

In a much older but slightly larger study from 1990, scientists looked at how 10 intense 1-hour massage treatments spread over 2 weeks might affect 21 women experiencing chronic headaches. As in the smaller study, participants in this study received massages from certified massage practitioners. The effects of the massages were then studied on a more long-term time frame.

Researchers in this study found that those 10 intense massage sessions led to a lowered occurrence, duration, and intensity of headaches.

Do you have migraine attacks too? There have also been studies on stimulating pressure points for migraine relief.

There are some well-known pressure points in the body believed to relieve headaches. Here’s where they are and how you can use them:

Union valley (Large intestine 4)

The union valley (LI4) points are located on the web between your thumb and index finger. To treat headaches:

  1. Start by pinching this area with the thumb and index finger of your opposite hand firmly — but not painfully — for 10 seconds.
  2. Next, make small circles with your thumb on this area in one direction and then the other, for 10 seconds each.
  3. Repeat this process on the union valley point on your opposite hand.

This type of pressure point treatment is believed to relieve tension in the head and neck. Tension is often associated with headaches.

Drilling bamboo acupressure point (Urinary bladder 2)

Drilling bamboo (UB2) points are located at the indentations on either side of the spot where the bridge of your nose meets the ridge of your eyebrows. To use these pressure points to treat headaches:

  1. Use both of your index fingers to apply firm pressure to both points at once.
  2. Hold for 10 seconds.
  3. Release and repeat.

Touching these pressure points can relieve headaches that are caused by eyestrain and sinus pain or pressure.

Gates of consciousness pressure points (Gallbladder 20)

The gates of consciousness (GB20) pressure points are located at the base of the skull in the parallel hollow areas between the two vertical neck muscles. To use these pressure points:

  1. Place your index and middle fingers of either hand onto these pressure points.
  2. Press firmly upward on both sides at once for 10 seconds, then release and repeat.

Applying a firm touch to these pressure points can help relieve headaches caused by tension in the neck.

Third eye pressure point (yin tang)

The third eye (yin tang) point can be found between your two eyebrows where the bridge of your nose meets your forehead.

  1. Use the index finger of one hand to apply firm pressure to this area for 1 minute.

Firm pressure applied to the third eye pressure point is thought to relieve eyestrain and sinus pressure that often cause headaches.

Shoulder well pressure point (Gallbladder 21)

The shoulder well (GB 21) is located at the edge of your shoulder, halfway between your shoulder point and the base of your neck. To use this pressure point:

  1. Use the thumb of one hand to apply firm, circular pressure to this point for 1 minute.
  2. Then switch and repeat on the opposite side.

Applying firm touch to the shoulder well pressure point can help relieve stiffness in your neck and shoulders, relieving neck pain and preventing headaches caused by this kind of sensation.

While using pressure points to treat headaches isn’t well studied, there’s some limited research suggesting that massage of the head and shoulders can help relieve headaches.

Because reflexology is a noninvasive, nonpharmaceutical way to treat headaches, it’s very safe. Just remember it’s a complementary treatment. You should look for professional medical help if you have recurring or very intense headaches.