Your Step-By-Step Guide to Use Acupressure for Headache Relief

Dr. Amy Sedgwick
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If you suffer from headaches, you know how debilitating they can be. Luckily, there are acupressure points for headaches that can help.

But before we get into acupressure – and specifically acupressure points for headaches – let’s take a quick look at the main types of headaches you could be experiencing.

Headaches come in many shapes, sizes, and durations. In Western medicine, we tend to put them into two classes:

  1. “Primary,” meaning that they are not due to another underlying cause we can identify
  2. ”Secondary,” meaning they are due to an underlying process

 

Examples of primary headaches are types such as migraines, cluster headaches, and tension headaches. Secondary headaches include headaches due to things like drugs or toxins, tumors, bleeding in or around the brain, or concussion, to name a few.

In this article, I will be referring to primary headaches only.

It is important to seek medical care right away if you have a brand new, intense headache or if you are having any associated changes in vision, speech, hearing, balance, movement, sensation or cognition, nausea, vomiting, or other new symptoms. You could have a more serious type of headache and would need to be evaluated before trying to “go it alone.”

So, with those safety guidelines in place, let’s dive into some self-care techniques that can really make a difference when you are having a migraine, tension headache, cluster headache, or even just a mild generalized headache.

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In order to understand the protocol for headache relief that I lay out below, let’s first explore a tiny bit of Eastern theory, as it relates to acupressure.
 

 
 

Where Do Acupressure Points for Headaches Come From?

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we understand that Liver Qi flows upward. Ultimately, the Liver controls the smooth flow of Qi in our bodies and when it is in balance, the systems in our bodies work harmoniously.

When we have a Liver Qi imbalance, it can cause Liver Qi to rise excessively making us more prone to headaches. The Liver also controls the sinews and can be implicated in tension along our fascial planes.

Imbalances in Liver Qi can lead to tightness in the ligaments, tendons, and fascia, which also can contribute to headaches.

Targeting acupuncture points with acupressure can be incredibly powerful in tonifying and rebalancing the Liver Qi that is often at the heart of our symptoms.

Many things can contribute to Liver Qi imbalance, including poor diet, poor sleep, toxins, external elements, or emotional triggers.

Targeting acupuncture points with acupressure can be incredibly powerful in tonifying and rebalancing the Liver Qi that is often at the heart of our symptoms.

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How to Use Acupressure Points for Headaches

Before we get into the specific points, let’s go over how to apply acupressure in a consistent way.

Basically, the acupressure technique to use is either with your index finger or, if that is too sensitive, use a knuckle or a small, grape-size myofascial release ball.

When you work with an acupressure point, apply medium to firm pressure and massage each point in a circular motion for 10 rotations in a clockwise direction. You should do each point three times. You can do bilateral points simultaneously or one at a time.

As you learn these points and the technique, find some props that allow you to relax the rest of your body while you do your acupressure. You could also incorporate some of these into a full yoga practice once you get the hang of it.
 
 

Here Are 8 Acupressure Points for Headaches:

There are a few “go-to” acupressure points for headaches.
 

1. Gallbladder 20

This point is located approximately two-fingers’-width away from the midline of your cervical spine along the very base of your skull.
 

2. Bladder 10

This point is located just medial to Gallbladder 20, approximately one-finger’s-width from your cervical spine.
 

3. Bladder 2

This point is right at the start of your eyebrow, medial to and in-line with the inner aspect of your eye.
 

4. Gallbladder 14

This point is located a finger’s-width just above the middle of your eyebrow (which should line up with your pupil when your eyes are looking straight ahead) on your forehead.
 

5. Large Intestine 11

This point is located in the fleshy muscle of your forearm just below your elbow crease along the thumb-side of your arm.
 

6. Large Intestine 4

To find this point, squeeze your thumb and index finger together, at the crease in the webbing between your thumb and index finger of your opposite hand.
 

7. Liver 2

Starting at the webspace between your first and second toe, run your index finger up just above the margin of the webbing to find this point.
 

8. Liver 3

Starting at the webspace between your first and second toe, run your index finger up past Liver 2, onto the top of your foot heading toward your ankle. The pronounced depression just before these two bones come together is Liver 3.
 
 

Here’s How to Perform Self-Care Using Acupressure Points for Headaches:

We can use a combination of yoga practices and acupressure points to help us when we are suffering from headaches.

The following are just how to use acupressure on two specific points, but you can apply these techniques on any of the aforementioned acupressure points in the body.

After completing this specific sequence, you may notice that you have some relief of facial or head tension, relief of pain along your back, or even easing of calf or foot pain. This is due to the fact that the entire posterior chain is connected and you just alleviated tension in a major center of it.
 

1. Gallbladder 20 Acupressure Point

Let’s try it:

  • Lying supine, with your yoga block at its medium height, place the back of your skull on the edge of the block closest to you, allowing your neck to hammock off of it
  • The block edge should be just at the spot where the hard part of your skull starts to transition to the soft tissues in your neck. This is where a lot of tension is held in the back of the neck and where we can use our block to release that tension
  • Resting back on the block, first allow your body to fully relax, taking deep, full breaths and letting all of your muscles relax into the mat
  • Take five to six slow breaths
  • Next, start to turn your head to the right slowly, feeling the edge of the yoga block massage into the base of your skull as you turn as far as you can to the right
  • Pause there for two to three breaths and bring your head halfway back and sink into the block at Gallbladder 20
  • Really relax here and lengthen your breath
  • Gently stay here and do a tiny “no” action with your head right over this spot

 

 
 

2. Bladder 10 Acupressure Point

Let’s try it:

  • After two to three breaths in the previous location, move from this spot halfway back again toward midline to Bladder 10
  • Repeat the “sinking into the block” action
  • Take two to three breaths, allowing your body to relax fully
  • If it feels good, do another gentle, tiny “no” action at this spot, taking two to three more breaths
  • Finally, bring your head back to midline and remove the block
  • Lying completely flat on the mat, just notice the difference in how the right side of your body feels versus the left
  • Take a few breaths here and then repeat this sequence on your left side

 
 

Add Acupressure to Your Yoga Practice

Doing three cycles of all of these points, 10 rotations each should help to ease headache symptoms in the moment but may also help keep them at bay in the future.

As mentioned before, start to get to know these points with a static practice, just focusing on the points. Then, if you’d like, you can incorporate them into your yoga practice.

For instance, when doing a Forward Fold, lengthen your spine with gravity while doing acupressure on Liver 2 and Liver 3 on your feet. When doing a supported Lunge, drape your forearm over your front thigh and find Large Intestine 4 and 11.

Finally, as you head toward Savasana, incorporate a yoga block behind your skull, targeting Gallbladder 20 and Bladder 10 while using your fingers to target Bladder 2 and Gallbladder 14.

It serves for a full and well-rounded practice that still targets headaches specifically.

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The Takeaway on Adding Acupressure Points for Headaches to Your Yoga Practice

I find adding acupressure to my yoga practice to be more sustainable in the long run versus doing the points on their own, but the beauty of this practice is that you now have a bunch of tools in your toolbox to grab when headaches seem to be coming your way.

I have worked with patients with headaches from so many perspectives – in the ER, in an Urgent Care setting, in my acupuncture practice, in yoga class – and it is nice to be able to offer people a way to help themselves rather than relying solely on medication.

We have so much healing potential in our bodies and learning how to tap into this is a key to wellness and happiness. I hope you find some relief!

All included information is not intended to treat or diagnose. The views expressed are those of the author and should be attributed solely to the author. For medical questions, please consult your healthcare provider.

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Dr. Amy Sedgwick

Dr. Amy Sedgwick is a Yoga Medicine® instructor and board certified emergency physician practicing in Portland, Maine. She also owns Medicine Within, LLC, where she provides acupuncture, private yoga, myofascial work and guided meditation to clients. In her free time, Dr. Sedgwick loves to be with her family, exercise, cook, read, and play stringed instruments.

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