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How Acupressure Can Help With Migraines and Headaches

How Acupressure Can Help With Migraines and Headaches

We all experience headaches and migraines for a variety of different reasons and they are never pleasant. However in most cases, reaching for the aspirin does not have to be your default reaction. The most common headaches can be easily alleviated with acupressure. And, even when you are in the midst of experiencing a migraine, acupressure can help you obtain some relief while the medication kicks in.

Acupressure is an alternative, natural tool which has been used for thousands of years by the Chinese and other Asian civilization. It works by stimulating pressure points (also known as 'acupressure points' or 'acupoints') on your body, and, unlike medication, the results can be immediate.

Before we discuss how you can benefit yourself with acupressure and how it can help with headaches and migraines, it is first important to understand what causes migraines and headaches. This is because, as you will see, not all headaches are alike, and some may point to a more serious underlying disease.

The Causes Behind Headaches and the Types of Headaches

According to the World Health Organization, almost half of the adult population worldwide will experience a headache in any given year. The reasons behind a headache can vary from stress or emotional distress to medical disorders, such as migraines, hypertension, anxiety, and depression, explains James Mcintosh for Medical News Today.

The International Headache Society puts headaches into two main categories: primary and secondary. 

Primary Headaches

Primary headaches are not caused by other conditions. Instead, they have to do with overactivity of or problems with pain-sensitive structures in the head. Chemical activity in the brain, the nerves of the blood vessels around the skull, and the head and neck muscles can play a role in this type of headache.

Some common primary headaches include:

Tension-Type Headache (TTH)

This is the most common primary headache disorder, and it often begins during the teenage years. As the name suggests, this type of headache can be stress-related or caused by musculoskeletal problems in the neck.

People describe it as a feeling of pressure or tightness, often like a band around the head. Sometimes, this pain can spread into or from the neck.

There are two types of tension-type headaches:

  • Episodic, which usually lasts for a few hours but can persist for several days. It happens on fewer than 15 days per month, and is the most common type of all.
  • Chronic, which happens on more than 15 days per month. It is much more disabling than the episodic one, as it can be very lengthy in duration. This type of headache affects 1-3% of the adult population.

Migraine

This primary headache disorder often begins at puberty, and most commonly affects people aged between 35 and 45. Because of hormonal influences, women suffer from migraines more often than men, usually by a factor of 2:1. Migraines are characterized by recurring attacks, and can often be life-long.

Migraines are caused by the activation of a mechanism in the brain which triggers the release of pain-producing inflammatory substances around the blood vessels and nerves of the head. This process results in some of the following symptoms:

  • Moderate or severe, pulsating, one-sided headaches which can last from several hours to several days and are aggravated by routine physical activity
  • Sensitivity to light, noise, and smells
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain and related problems
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision and sensory disturbances
  • Feeling very warm or cold
  • Diarrhea

Cluster Headache

This is one of the most painful types of headaches. It is characterized by bouts of intense pain in or around one eye on one side of the head. They happen in what are known as cluster periods that can last from weeks to months.

There are two types of cluster headaches: episodic and chronic. Episodic cluster headaches last from seven days to one year, followed by pain-free periods (remissions) of at least three months. Chronic cluster headaches can last for one year or longer without remission, or with remissions shorter than three months.

The symptoms include:

  • Severe one-sided pain located in, behind, or around one eye. It can also radiate to other areas of your face, head, and neck
  • Restlessness
  • Tearing
  • Redness of the affected eye
  • Stuffy or runny nose on the affected side
  • Drooping eyelid
  • Swelling around the eye
  • Pale skin or flushing
  • Sweating on the affected side

Other Primary Headaches

A primary headache can happen because of other factors as well. These may include:

  • Coughing
  • Exercise
  • Sexual activity
  • Cold stimuli (like ice-cream or cold air)
  • External pressure on the head

Secondary Headaches

Secondary headaches are triggered by another underlying condition. In other words, this type of headache is a symptom of an underlying disease. These headaches can point to different conditions, some of which may require immediate attention.

Some secondary headaches include:

  • Medication-overuse headache, which happens as a result of taking too much headache medication
  • Headaches caused by head/neck trauma or injury, which can be acute or persistent, and can also be caused by whiplash
  • Headaches caused by vascular disorders in the head or neck, such as a stroke, subarachnoid hemorrhage, or arteritis
  • Headaches caused by brain disorders
  • Substance use or withdrawal-related headaches, like those caused by red wine
  • Headaches caused by infections, such as meningitis
  • Homeostasis-related headaches, usually caused by high altitudes, diving, sleep apnea, fasting, hypothyroidism, and other issues
  • Headaches caused by health issues related to the eyes, ears, sinuses, teeth, mouth, the skull, or the head

The Science Behind Acupressure and How to Use It to Address Headaches and Migraines

Acupressure is one of the Asian bodywork therapies used in traditional Chinese medicine. It revolves around the medical theory of pressure points (also known as 'acupressure points' or 'acupoints') that lie along the meridians in the body. The meridians serve as energy channels, and it is believed that the vital qi (ch’i) energy flows through them.

Traditional Chinese medicine recognizes 12 major meridians that serve to connect specific organs or networks of organs. If any of these meridians becomes blocked or out of balance, you may experience different illnesses.

By stimulating the acupoints through acupuncture, acupressure or other pressure point massage, these energy blocks are unlocked, and, as a result, the illness is ameliorated. Pain is considered to be one of the instances of energy blocks in some of the meridians. 

Even though it is seen as an alternative health method, the effectiveness of acupressure has been proven time after time by many scientists. One study examined pain in particular, showing that acupressure has the potential to relieve many different types of pain, such as menstrual pain, labor pain, low back pain, chronic headache, and other traumatic pain.

Acupressure works by applying deep pressure to the acupoints, usually for an extended period of time. By doing so, you activate and stimulate those points and work on relieving the pain or tension.

It is generally accepted that the body contains various pressure points which, if properly and safely triggered, can support health and well-being. For instance, there are pressure points for pain generally, as well as specific pressure points for headache and specific migraine pressure points.

In the next section of this article, we identify and discuss various acupoints which can help relieve headaches and migraines, including various pressure points on the head, acupressure points in the hand and migraine pressure points in the ear.

The Acupoints Related to Headaches and Migraines

There are several acupoints you can stimulate to relieve the pain caused by headaches and migraines. Here is where you can find them:

The Head Region

    1. The Third Eye Point (GV-24.5)


      Image credit: New Health Advisor

      This acupoint is found between the eyebrows, where the bridge of the nose connects to the forehead. Helps with headaches and congestion and is a good pressure point to get rid of migraines.

        2. The Drilling Bamboo (B-2)


          Image credit:
          New Health Advisor

          These pressure points are located at the inner corners of both eyes, just above the eyelids, below the eyebrows - on the bones surrounding the eyes. Stimulating them helps with sinus headaches and allergy symptoms. This can also be a good pressure point for relief from a tension headache.

            3. Welcome Fragrance (LI-20)


              Image credit:
              New Health Advisor

              Located on the outer side of each nostril, near the bottom of the cheekbones, right below the pupil. Stimulating them helps with sinus headaches, migraines, tension headaches, and toothaches.

                4. Temple Acupoints


                  Image credit:
                  New Health Advisor

                  The temple acupoints consist of a chain of five points: temporal hairline curve (GB-07), valley lead (GB-08), celestial hub (GB-09), floating white (GB-10), and head portal yin (GB-11). These acupoints are located above and behind the ears. The hairline curve starts just above the tip of the ear, and the rest follow by an index-finger width, curling down and back around the ear. Stimulating them with acupressure helps with headaches, migraine, tinnitus, and other conditions. These are among the best acupressure points for migraine headaches and are also excellent pressure points for cluster headaches.

                  Neck and Shoulders

                    1. The Wind Mansion (GV-16)


                      Image credit:
                      New Health Advisor

                      This acupoint is located in the center of the back of the head, in the hollow under the base of the skull. Applying acupressure to it helps with migraines, stress, and stiff neck.

                        2. Heavenly Pillar (BL-10)


                          Image credit:
                          New Health Advisor

                          These acupoints are located on the rope-like muscles, precisely two fingers below the base of the skull. Applying pressure to these points relieves aches at the back of the head, neck pains, stiff neck, eyestrain, stress, and insomnia.

                            3. Gate of Consciousness (GB-20)


                              Image credit:
                              Acupressure.com

                              You can find these acupoints below the base of the skull, in the hollow between the vertical neck muscles. Stimulating them helps with headaches, arthritis, irritability, dizziness, stiff neck, and eye strain.

                              Hands and Feet

                                1. Hands - Union Valley (LI-4)


                                  Image credit:
                                  New Health Advisor

                                  This acupoint is on the web between the thumb and the index finger. Apply pressure to this point on the top of the hand with your thumb or index finger to stimulate it. It helps with headaches in the frontal region, toothaches, and back pain. This is the among the most effective pressure points in the hand for relief from headache.

                                    2. Feet - Bigger Rushing (LV-3)


                                      Image credit:
                                      New Health Advisor

                                      You can find this acupoint between the big toe and the second toe. Place your finger at the webbing between the toes and slide back one inch, or until you feel between the foot bones. Applying pressure to this point helps with headaches, foot cramps, arthritis, and eye fatigue.

                                        3. Feet - Above Tears (GB-41)


                                          Image credit:
                                          New Health Advisor

                                          You will find this point an inch above the webbing between the fourth and fifth toe. This point is essentially where the bones meet. Stimulating it helps with headaches, sciatica, arthritis, hip pain, shoulder tension, and water retention.

                                          How to Use Acupressure to Help Relieve Headaches and Migraines

                                          After familiarizing yourself with the various pressure points which help with headaches and migraines, it is time to begin supporting your well-being with acupressure. 

                                          In one recent article, Aaron J. Michelfelder MD provided a short guide on how to apply acupressure correctly. He explains that this technique can be used both by professional staff and patients who like to perform it on themselves:

                                          1. Place your index finger or thumb on the acupoint and apply just enough pressure to move the skin.
                                          2. Start moving the finger or thumb in gentle, slow circles.
                                          3. With every few circles, increase the pressure until you feel the muscle fibers beginning to relax beneath your fingers. If you are stimulating an area without a muscle, just keep applying slow, steady, downward, circular pressure.
                                          4. While stimulating the acupoint, you should feel a dull, aching sensation. Continue applying acupressure for at least a minute, and do it within the limits of your comfort zone.
                                          5. If the acupressure does not yield an effect immediately by providing some relief for your headache or migraine, repeat after several minutes.

                                          Some Precautions

                                          Acupressure can be very useful for primary headaches, as well as some secondary headaches (like sinus headaches). However, when it comes to more serious headaches, such as migraines, we recommend that you consider using  medication and applying acupressure as a secondary tool to help relieve pain until the medication takes effect.

                                          In cases of secondary headaches, consulting a healthcare professional is paramount. These headaches may point to a very serious condition that may require immediate care. 

                                          Acupressure is an alternative approach which, although beneficial in certain cases, cannot address underlying causes and serious illnesses when used in self-treatment. So, consider it as only one tool in your arsenal for relieving pain rather than the solution to secondary headaches. 

                                          Also, according to WebMD, acupressure should be avoided in the following cases:

                                          • If the treatment is in the area of a cancerous tumor, or if the cancer has spread to the bones
                                          • If you have rheumatoid arthritis, bone disease, or spinal injury, which could be made worse by physical manipulation
                                          • If you have varicose veins
                                          • If you are pregnant (because you may induce contractions by stimulating certain points)

                                          How an Acupressure Mat Can Help with Headaches and Migraines

                                          Acupressure mats are designed to apply deep pressure to various acupoints when you lie or stand on them. These mats can be as effective as manual acupressure. While there are many ways to use an acupressure mat, it is generally recommended that you lie or stand on them for at least 5-20 minutes at a time, depending on your tolerance and length of time using your mat. Acupressure mats have various health benefits.

                                          There is a notable difference between applying acupressure manually and lying on an acupressure mat. In particular, acupressure mats can sometimes be less targeted depending how you use the acupressure mat. Oliver Grover, an acupuncturist and chiropractor, explains that this raises the concern of stimulating many different points on the body at once - which can be taxing on the body. However, the risks are relatively minor.

                                          When it comes to headaches and migraines, acupressure mats can be great for the neck and shoulder regions. All you need to do is lie down and let them do their work. Doing so can provide migraine relief by triggering relevant pressure points.

                                          Please avoid using an acupressure mat if you have poor circulation or thin skin (common among the elderly or diabetic). This is because the mat may pierce your skin, and you may get an infection as a result.

                                          If you are interested in using acupressure for migraines or headaches and are looking for a high-quality, long lasting acupressure mat made of eco-friendly material, check out the acupressure mat by Dosha Mat.

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