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5 Pressure Points for Headaches

Nearly 45 million Americans get at least one headache per year. Of that number, 30% deal with migraine disorder, which can be highly debilitating. Some people experience headaches that are so severe and frequent that they end up missing work and many of life’s moments. Finding a way to manage your headaches outside of pain medication (a solution that doesn’t always work) is vital for living a happier, healthier life.

Holistic treatment options, like massage therapy and chiropractic care, may be the answer. Continue reading to learn how massage therapy can help with your headaches and techniques you can use to find relief at home.

Types of Headaches

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Not all headaches are the same. When you can pinpoint the type of headaches you are experiencing, treatment becomes much easier. Typically, headaches fall into two major categories: muscle tension and vascular.

  • Muscle tension — This pain is usually dull and constant on both sides. It can be caused by the tightening of muscles in the head, face, and neck.
  • Vascular headaches — Vascular headaches feel like pounding or throbbing. They occur when the blood vessels that supply the brain begin to swell and constrict.

There are over 150 nuanced headaches. However, based on the sensation, duration, and location, you may be dealing with one of the four most common types of headaches:

1. Tension Headache

This is the most common form of head pain. It is characterized by dull, aching, mild to moderate pain all over the head. Tension headaches tend to come and go with no other symptoms. These are more likely to be triggered by physical or mental stress.

2. Cluster Headaches

Clusters usually feel the most severe. Many patients complain of constant burning or piercing pain behind or around the eye. The pain can even wake you up out of your sleep. While these headaches only last for about 15 minutes to 3 hours, they can strike in groups with as many as three a day and recur for an extended period (2 weeks up to 3 months). Men are more likely to experience cluster headaches than women.

3. Migraine

Migraine is considered a condition with no exact cause and no permanent cure. This headache feels like pounding or throbbing, typically concentrated to one side of the face. Each episode can last for 4 hours but will generally stick around for days. People with migraine headaches may experience 1 to 4 attacks per month. These episodes are accompanied by additional symptoms like pain, sensitivity to light, noise, and smells, nausea or vomiting, loss of appetite, and stomach pain.

4. Sinus Headache

As the name suggests, sinus headaches affect the sinuses with deep, constant pain in the cheekbones, forehead, and nose area. The inflamed sinuses can also cause other symptoms like runny nose, full ears, and swelling. Generally, you will experience these episodes if you have allergies or a sinus infection marked by yellow or green discharge.

What causes headaches?

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At its core, a headache is caused by a mixture of pain signals between the brain, blood vessels, and surrounding nerves. However, different situations may affect this line of communication and result in a headache, like:

  • Illness — Infections, colds, and fevers)
  • Neck and back strain from poor posture
  • Stress and how we react to it (i.e., skipping meals, changes in sleep, alcohol use, etc.)
  • Environmental factors — smoke, scents, chemicals, allergens, noise, lights, weather can all be triggers.
  • Exercise
  • Hormones
  • Rebound headaches from reliance on prescriptions and over-the-counter medications.
  • Head injuries
  • Hemicrania continua
  • Genetics — Migraine condition tends to run in the family. If both parents get them, the child is 70% more likely to experience them. If only one parent suffers from this condition, there is a 25% to 50% chance the child will inherit them.

How does massage therapy help with headaches?

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Massage therapy can be an excellent treatment option, especially if your headaches occur from muscle tension and stress.

In fact, a 2002 study followed patients who had experienced chronic headaches at least two to three times per week for six months. The researchers found that massage reduced the number of headaches from 7 per week to just two. The duration of the headaches also decreased by half the time.

How did massage therapy help? The techniques used by your massage therapist target the cause of your pain and offer relief by:

  • Boosting relaxation to reduce stress-induced migraines and headaches
  • Reducing muscle spasms
  • Easing muscle tension in the neck and shoulders
  • Releasing shortened muscles
  • Relieving pressure on the nerves and blood vessels
  • Increasing blood circulation
  • Decreasing sleep disturbances and distress

Headache Relief Pressure Points

Certain areas of the body may provide relief to seemingly unrelated sites. Your massage therapist can easily identify these headache relief pressure points during your appointment to provide more immediate relief. By stimulating these pressure points for headaches at home, you can prolong the results of your massage therapy appointment.

1. Union Valley Pressure Point — Large Intestine 4 (LI4)

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The Union Valley pressure point is located in the web or fleshy depression between the thumb and the index finger.

This tension headache relief pressure point releases pressure in the neck and head. It is also great for pain in the face, head, and neck, especially when it comes to sinuses, jaw pain, and earaches. The LI4 point can also help with detoxification and menstrual cramps.

How to stimulate the union valley pressure point:

Using the thumb and index finger of the opposite hand, apply gentle yet firm pressure on the fleshy depression for 3 minutes. Take deep breaths during this time. You can also massage the area in small circles.

You should not stimulate this point if you are pregnant, as it can induce labor in some instances. 

2. Drilling Bamboo Pressure Point — Bright Light Point (B2)

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The drilling bamboo point rests on either side of the place where the bridge of the nose meets the ridge of the eyebrows.

The B2 point is best for relieving allergies, sinus pressure, and the resulting pain. It’s also particularly useful for eyestrain caused by electronic devices. Adding this pressure point stimulation to your nightly routine can help you unwind after a long day of desk work.

How to stimulate the drilling bamboo pressure point for headaches:

Use your index finger to apply firm pressure for 10 seconds, release, and repeat.

3. The Gates of Consciousness Pressure Point — Gallbladder 20

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The gates of consciousness pressure point for headaches is located at the base of either side of your skull in the hollow areas between the two vertical parallel neck muscles.

The gallbladder 20 point is one of the best migraine pressure points, as it also addresses blurred vision, low energy, and fatigue. It is also beneficial for easing anxiety and stress. If you deal with insomnia or frequent sleep disturbances, you may also find relief in using this point. Most notably, it can help soothe tension and pain in the neck.

How to stimulate the gates of consciousness pressure point:

Place the fingers on the points, using your index and middle finger (or clasping your hands behind the neck with thumbs facing downward). Press firmly upward for 10 seconds and repeat.

4. The Third Eye Pressure Point — Hall of Impression

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One of the most well-known pressure points, the third eye, sits right between your eyebrows, where the bridge of your nose meets your forehead.

This tension headache relief pressure point has many alternative uses for emotional well-being and alignment. It also connects with the pineal gland, which promotes deep relaxation and produces melatonin to relieve migraines. The third eye pressure point can also calm anxiety, reduce dizziness, and soothe sinus pressure.

How to stimulate the third eye pressure point for headaches:

Locate the third eye and use your index finger to apply gentle pressure for one minute.

5. The Shoulder Well Pressure Point — Gallbladder 21

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You’ll find the shoulder well pressure point at the highest part of the shoulder halfway between the shoulder point and the base of the neck.

Stimulating this area can relieve stiffness and pain in the neck and shoulders and the resulting headaches. It can also remove the weight off the shoulders that accumulates from poor posture. Finally, it releases stress and tension in the upper body.

How to stimulate the shoulder well pressure point for headaches:

Take your thumb and apply firm pressure in a circular motion for one minute. Switch and repeat on the opposite side.

Because the shoulder well pressure point encourages energy flow downward, it is not recommended for pregnant women.

Massage Therapy at Total Body Chiropractic

If you deal with regular headaches, it’s time to give massage therapy a try! This non-invasive treatment option has proven to ease the effects of headaches to help you feel more comfortable. Massage therapy also delivers a number of other beneficial benefits for your mind and body, including increased flexibility, reduced joint pain, better sleep quality, lymphatic drainage, and so much more. At Total Body Chiropractic, Massage & Acupuncture, we create an individualized treatment plan to target multiple problem areas at once and help you feel your best. Schedule your appointment with us today!