Acupressure For Headaches

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Dr. Sara Ptasnik
March 19, 2023 / 7 mins read

What is Acupressure?

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there are channels that flow through your body called “meridians.” Energy or “Qi” flows through these channels like water flowing through a network of rivers and streams.

Anything that causes an imbalance can lead to blockage or stuck energy in these channels, and blockage can then lead to pain and other problems. Things that cause imbalance include improper diet or activity (not doing enough physical activity or doing too much intense exercise when you’re already tired and should be resting), poor sleep, stress, injury or trauma, and even changes in weather.

In addition to addressing these factors, you can stimulate special points along the channels to restore the flow of energy and improve your health. This is the basis of acupuncture, but you actually don’t need needles ─ you can use pressure and massage to stimulate these points yourself!

How do I do it?

To do acupressure, use steady pressure over the point anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes. You can also massage with small circles if that feels better for you. If you feel tenderness, it’s likely a sign that energy isn’t flowing as well there ─ massaging these points can move the stuck energy and reduce the pain. It should feel better with the massage, not worse. If you have more pain, you can try less pressure or massage at a different spot.

It can also be helpful to combine acupressure with breathing strategies or other relaxation techniques. Stress is one of the major causes of Qi getting stuck, so relaxing the body and being present and mindful will help to improve the flow of energy and give you more benefit from the acupressure.

Acupressure for headache

Let’s review three acupressure points to help relieve headaches. But before we talk about the specific points, it’s important to think about what may be triggering the headache. Very often, even if we aren’t aware of pain in our neck and shoulders, muscle tension in these areas contributes to headaches. Like we talked about above, we want everything to flow well to have the best health, and tight muscles can really block the flow of Qi.

And what causes the tight muscles? Often, the tightness is from stress ─ whether it’s more mechanical stressors, like repetitive movements or poor posture, or emotional stressors like overthinking or worry ─ these stressors lead to tension. So, learning to relax and allow these muscles to soften is really important.

There are lots of other things that can lead to headaches and feeling unwell. Remember, food and breath are what give us energy. Are we eating the right foods to nourish us? Are we breathing deeply throughout the day? Are we drinking enough water so our blood and energy can flow? Are we getting enough sleep so we can recharge? Are we doing things that inspire us and give us joy?

Thankfully these acupressure points not only help with headaches, but they also help with neck tension and with stress. You can check out Dr. Eileen Yager’s videos for more strategies on relaxation for both our minds and our muscles. Try some of the points below and see how they feel for you. However, be mindful -- two of these points are technically not recommended in pregnancy as they could theoretically lead to contractions, so avoid strong stimulation of those points if you are pregnant.

Don’t worry about the different names of these points if you are unfamiliar with them. In TCM, the acupoints are named according to where they lie on that specific channel or meridian. Most of the meridians correspond to specific organ systems. We can learn more about these organ systems in a different post.

Gallbladder 20:


The first point is named Gallbladder 20. This point is located in the depression along the base of the skull behind the mastoid or ear bone where the neck muscles attach. Massaging here is really useful for headache, neck pain, flu and cold symptoms, and eye discomfort.

Gallbladder 21:


This point, named Gallbladder 21, is located at the high point of the trapezius muscles in between the neck and shoulders. This spot can be really tender! You can push straight down on this point or pinch the muscles here to massage it. This is a point to use with caution if you are pregnant! It is useful for neck and shoulder pain and stiffness, headache, cough, fever, and allergy symptoms.

Large Intestine 4:


The Large Intestine 4 point is located at the highest spot of the muscle in the web space when the thumb and the index fingers are brought together. This is also a point to use with caution if you are pregnant! This point is excellent for clearing pain, especially in the face, head, and neck. It’s helpful for regulating elimination and digestion, menstruation, and is also great for stress. Think about this point for letting go of what you don’t need!

For a video demonstration of acupressure, watch here: