Written by Zawn Villines – Medically reviewed by Kerry Boyle D.Ac., M.S., L.Ac., Dipl. Ac.
Research on acupressure is relatively new. However, some studies do support the effectiveness of acupressure for head pain.
There are only a couple of pressure points on the feet that may help with headaches. These points are safe to use alongside other pressure points. For example, a person can stimulate a pressure point elsewhere on the body and then move to the feet.
Some points to stimulate for headaches include:
This spot, also known as Liver 3, is on the top of the foot. Find it by locating the spot on the webbing between the big and second toes. Then move down so the hand is level with the knuckle, and stimulate for several minutes.
It can help ease headaches and tension, as well as low back pain and stress.
Zu Lin Qi
Acupressure practitioners also refer to this spot as Gall Bladder 41.
Find the spot between the pinky toe and fourth toe, then move down to the area between the knuckles where the toes connect to the feet. Stimulate for several minutes.
Applying pressure to this point can help with headaches, period pain, and menstrual headaches.
Learn about different hand pressure points to relieve various conditions here.
The pressure points listed below may also help with headaches.
This spot is also known as Gall Bladder 20. Stimulate this pressure point behind the neck, on either side of the spine, at the spot where the large muscles of the neck attach to the base of the head.
This may help ease headaches, as well as cold symptoms, fatigue, and migraine.
A person can stimulate this pressure point, also referred to as Large Intestine 4, by locating the spot on the side of the index finger where it connects to the hand, between the index finger and thumb.
This may help relieve stress, tension, toothaches, generalized face pain, and headaches. However, stimulating He Gu is not safe during pregnancy.
Acupressure practitioners also call this spot Gall Bladder 21.
Stimulate this point on the top of the shoulders, at the exact midpoint between the neck and the shoulders. It should help with headaches, neck pain, and neck stiffness.
Applying pressure to this point may not be safe in pregnant people.
Find Zhong Zu, or Triple Heater 3, between the pinky and ring finger, between the knuckles where the fingers connect to the hand.
Stimulating this spot may help ease tension headaches, as well as neck and shoulder pain.
Learn more pressure points that may relieve headaches here.
Why can pressure points make a difference?
TCM practitioners believe a vital energy force called chi (Qi) circulates throughout the body. Illness and other health issues can cause imbalances of this energy, leading to pain and serious medical conditions. Stimulating certain pressure points helps more effectively move chi.
Research on acupressure is not conclusive. Although practitioners have used this complementary medicine for thousands of years, science is only now beginning to explore its use.
To stimulate a pressure point, apply firm and steady pressure in an up-and-down or circular motion for several minutes. It should not hurt. If it does, try slightly moving the pressure point.
A small number of studies suggest acupuncture can be a helpful treatment for head pain. For instance, a 2010 randomized clinical trial compared self-reported pain 1 and 6 months following either muscle relaxant treatment or acupressure. While both groups got better, improvements were much greater in the acupressure group.
A 2014 systematic review found more generally that acupressure could help relieve pain, including head pain.
However, there are some issues with studies of pressure points and acupressure for headaches. Most do not look at specific acupressure points but rather a group of points. This makes it difficult to discern whether a specific spot is more effective than another one.
Learn about acupressure and acupuncture here.
Headaches are among the most common afflictions, and most are harmless. The specific triggers will depend on the type of headache.
For example, certain foods may cause a migraine, while sitting at a desk all day in a strained posture may trigger a tension headache.
It may be useful to keep a log of headaches and their triggers to identify any patterns. Some triggers include:
- pain and tension in the muscles
- caffeine and alcohol
- certain foods
Other treatment options
Some alternative treatment options for headaches include:
- massage for pain and tension
- headache medicine, either an over-the-counter or prescription one
- complementary medicine, such as acupuncture
- stress management techniques
- drinking more water
Learn 15 natural remedies for headaches and migraines here.
Most headaches are not dangerous and resolve with or without treatment.
However, some headaches are a chronic source of pain, especially for people experiencing migraines and those with chronic tension headaches. A headache may also warn of a serious underlying medical issue.
A person should contact a doctor if:
- headaches happen several times per week
- home management strategies are ineffective
- managing headache triggers does not prevent headaches
- headaches are very painful
- the headache pattern changes
- they notice neurological symptoms alongside headaches, such as shaking, confusion, or vomiting
Seeking emergency medical attention is necessary if a sudden, very intense headache co-occurs with numbness on either side of the body, confusion, loss of consciousness, or trouble walking or moving.
Acupressure points for headaches may help a person feel better faster. For some people, these pressure points are a viable alternative to headache medication and the side effects it can cause.
As with any chronic medical condition, it is advisable to contact a doctor if headaches are frequent or if home remedies prove ineffective.