Best Acupressure Points for Tension Headaches

In considering the presenting symptoms of the many people I have treated over the past ten years, I can say with certainty that headaches are among the most frequently reported health complaints. And the vast majority of headaches that I have diagnosed and treated have been tension-type headaches.

Tension-type headaches involve dull or pressure-like pain in and around your temples, forehead, scalp, or the back of your neck. Often times, the pain associated with a tension-type headache will feel like it is being created by a band of pressure that is tightening around your head.

Although emotional stress, anxiety, and depression are among the most common causes of chronic, intermittent tension-type headaches, tension headaches can also be caused by pure physical stressors, such as poor posture, sleeping with your neck in an awkward position, or any type of physical injury that has caused muscles in and around your head and neck to become tight.

Unlike migraine and cluster headaches, tension-type headaches tend to respond quickly to a few physical measures. What follows are the key recommendations that I typically share with patients who are looking to overcome chronic tension-type headaches via simple physical measures:

  1. Spend a minimum of 20 minutes each day in a session of meditation, deep relaxation, or prayer. Doing so can help to alleviate emotional stressors that may be contributing to your tension-type headaches. For meditation and relaxation sessions, I have found EarthRain to be an enormously effective tool.

  2. Be mindful of positions that your neck and head are forced to take on for extended periods throughout the day. Strive to position your neck and head in such a way that you do not feel tension in your eyes, neck, or shoulders. Reading and writing with your neck bent down and to one side are killer culprits - do what you can to minimize this posture.

  3. Upon receiving approval from your primary health care provider, consider applying manual pressure to the following acupuncture points:

    1. Gall Bladder 20 (GB-20): Located behind your head, in the first major depression that you can feel below the base of your skull, about two finger widths away from the midline of your neck.

      For those with knowledge of human anatomy: This point is at the junction of the occipital and nuchal regions, in a depression that lies between the origins of the sternocleidomastoid and trapezius muscles. It is approximately at the level of the lower margin of the external occipital protuberance.

      Application of pressure to GB-20 is meant to affect:

      • Semispinalis capitis muscle
      • Splenius capitis muscle
      • Rectus capitis posterior muscle
      • Obliquus capitis superior muscle
      • Greater occipital nerve
      • Less occipital nerve
      • Suboccipital nerve (C1)
      • Motor fibers from dorsal rami of upper cervical nerves
      • Branches of the occipital artery and tributaries of the companion vein

    2. Belly of Your Temporalis Muscle*: Located in the center of your temple region. Palpate this region with your first and middle fingers pressed closely together until you find a tender, muscular zone. If you have trouble locating this point, place your fingers against your temples and then clench down on your molars a few times - you should feel the main muscle belly of your temporalis muscles bulge in and out.

      For those with knowledge of human anatomy, pressure on the belly of the temporalis muscle is meant to affect:

      • Deep temporal nerves that branch off from the third division (mandibular) of the trigeminal nerve
      • Cutaneous branches of the greater occipital nerve
      • Deep temporal artery and companion vein

    3. Large Intestine 4 (LI-4): Located in the soft, fleshy web that sits between your thumb and forefinger.

      For those with knowledge of human anatomy, this point is meant to affect:

      • A muscular branch of the median nerve
      • The deep branch of the ulnar nerve
      • Proper palmer digital nerves from the first common palmar digital nerve
      • The superficial branch of the radial nerve
      • Tributary branches of the cephalic vein, the radial artery, and the first dorsal metacarpal artery and companion veins

    For optimal results, use your fingers and/or thumbs to massage these points on both sides of your body for a few minutes at a time, up to several times a day. When you correctly locate these points, you should feel some tenderness when you apply pressure to them. Apply enough pressure/massage to create a mild, dull, and possibly achy sensation.

    If you are not sure about the location of GB-20 and LI-4, I highly recommend that you take a look at the following book, the best of its kind:

    Acupressure's Potent Points: a Guide to Self-Care for Common Ailments

    I recommend this as a must-have reference book for every person who is interested in natural health remedies, as it provides excellent illustrations of all of the major acupressure points that I use to treat a wide variety of health challenges. I will continue to refer to various points that are illustrated in this book as I write more articles on how to use acupressure to address different health challenges.

Please note: you should never receive acupressure or acupuncture treatments while pregnant. Certain points, such as SP-6 can cause uterine contractions. Also, acupressure should never be applied to legs that have varicose veins. Applying pressure or massage to varicose veins can potentially lead to a pulmonary embolism. You should always consult with your primary health care provider before you begin applying acupressure to yourself or others.

If you find that consistent application of the suggestions provided in this article do not lead to significant improvement with your headaches, you should consult with your primary health care provider to rule out other less common causes of pain and discomfort in your head and neck regions.

* The belly of your temporalis muscle does not contain a classically defined acupuncture meridian point. It is a point that I have found through personal clinical experience to be an effective treatment site for tension-type headaches.