What is Acupressure?
Acupressure is a form of massage which is based on the same theories as acupuncture and Chinese medicine. It uses a variety of different movements to improve the circulation of qi and blood, relax the muscles and relieve tension and pain.
Acupressure (called tui na in China) is normally performed with the patient fully clothed. It can be used in combination with acupuncture, cupping and herbal medicine, or as a standalone treatment.
Headaches and Migraines in Traditional Chinese medicine
According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), one of the most common causes of headaches and migraines is a condition called Liver-qi stagnation. Qi is a vital substance which keeps our organs, muscles and tissues healthy and nourished. In order to do this effectively, it must be able to reach every part of our bodies from head to toe.
The circulation of qi is controlled by the Liver. The Liver is responsible for ensuring that qi is distributed evenly in all directions, allowing it to reach every cell. Unfortunately, the Liver is easily affected by stress and frustration. Over time, these emotions cause the muscles to become tense and tight, restricting the flow of qi. When qi gets stuck in a particular body part (like your head), this can cause pain and other symptoms and is known in TCM as qi stagnation.
The Liver is closely related to the Gallbladder as they are yin and yang partners, governed by the wood element. The Gallbladder channel starts at the temples, zigzagging over the sides of the head before traveling down the shoulders and torso to the legs and feet.
This chart shows the acupuncture points of the gallbladder channel on the head
When the Liver is stressed, this can have a knock-on effect on the Gallbladder, causing pain along its channel. This is why Liver-qi stagnation is a major cause of headaches and migraines, especially those affecting the sides of the head or the area around the eyes.
Many people who suffer from tension type headaches will tell you that they also suffer from neck and shoulder stiffness and pain. This is another classic symptom of qi stagnation which follows the course of the Gallbladder channel.
Other causes of headaches in TCM include an excess of yang rushing to the head, and pathogenic factors such as heat or cold blocking the head, as in the case of colds and flu.
Acupressure Massage for Headaches and Migraines
Acupressure can help to relieve headaches and migraines by restoring the free flow of qi to the head. This may be done by gently massaging the face and scalp, or by massaging the neck and shoulders to relax the muscles and relieve tension.
It can be used alone or combined with acupuncture and/or herbs to enhance its effects. Many people find that they feel better after just one tui na session, but to ensure long-lasting effects, it is recommended that you complete a full course of treatment.
If you need extra relief between appointments, you can also try some basic self-acupressure techniques. Some of the best acupressure points for headaches and migraines are listed below:
The Best Acupressure Points for Headaches and Migraines
Liver (LR) 3
This is one of the best points for soothing a stressed Liver and relieving Liver-qi stagnation.
It is located on the top of the foot, in a dip at the upper ends of the 1st and 2nd metatarsal bones (the foot bones which connect with the big toe and second toe).Use your index fingers to apply firm but gentle pressure to the points on both feet and massage with small circular movements for 1-2 minutes. If you are flexible enough, you can place the soles of your feet together to massage both points at once. Otherwise massage one foot at a time, starting with the right foot.
Gallbladder (GB) 20
This point is great for headaches along the Gallbladder channel, including the sides of the head and around the eyes. It is especially effective if there is neck pain and stiffness too.
Place your hands on the back of your head and use your thumbs to find the two hollows at the base of your skull. These are located about 2 inches out from the middle of your spine, just on the edge of the muscles running down the side your neck. Press your thumbs into the points, angling them slightly upwards towards your eyes. Press in firmly but gently, and massage the points in small, circular movements for 1-2 minutes.
Bladder (BL) 2
This point is located near the start of the Bladder channel which runs from the inner corners of the eyes, over the top of the head and down either side of the spine to the legs and feet. It is good for headaches on the forehead or back of the head, especially when there is dizziness or blurred vision too.
The point is found in a small notch in the bone at the inner end of each eyebrow, straight up from the inner corner of the eyes. Use your thumbs or index fingers to apply medium pressure to the points and hold for 1-2 minutes.