Tension headaches are no joke. They typically feel like a tight band around the head, and can stem from muscle contractions in the head and neck, stress or even poor posture.
Many people take pain medications like acetaminophen and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) to relieve symptoms. But overusing them without medical guidance can lead to harmful side effects.
As an acupuncturist with 10 years of clinical experience, I’ve had thousands of patients come to me for help with tension headaches.
In acupuncture treatment, pressure is placed on certain points of the body to relax muscles and improve blood flow. Here are some methods I use to quickly relieve headaches — without the needles!
1. Pressing at the base of your skull and neck
These acupuncture points are on the bony base of the skull, on the left and right sides. Placing pressure on them is not just helpful for relieving headaches, but also for neck pain and sinus congestion.
- Clasp your hands together behind your head, with your thumbs facing down.
- Position your hands so that each thumb presses into the ditch at the base of the skill (one on the left, one on the right).
- Apply light-to-moderate pressure and rub in small circles. You may feel some tenderness or tension in this spot, which is normal.
- Do this until you start to feel some relief.
2. Pressing the space between your thumb and index finger
I call this the “painkiller button” because it relieves headaches while also delivering an “it hurts so good” feeling. (If you are pregnant, I recommend avoiding this method because it can be overstimulating.)
- Turn your palm to face down and find the fleshy web space between the thumb and index finger.
- Press down on this point with the thumb of your opposite hand.
- As you press, gently push towards the bone of the index finger, or pinch it down like you’re grabbing a card from a slot.
- Hold with mild to moderate pressure for 60 seconds and adjust the pressure intensity as needed.
- Repeat two or three times on each hand.
Other ways to relax tension headaches
Walking outside at a brisk pace for 30 minutes can decrease your stress and provide fresh oxygen, helping to treat tension headaches.
If you find it difficult to leave your desk completely, schedule short breaks every 30 to 60 minutes. Get up and walk around or stretch for five to 10 minutes to encourage more blood flow to the body and brain.
Drinking water can also help relax head and body aches. Fatigue is often caused by a lack of hydration, and studies have found that people who experience headaches and migraines often don’t drink enough water. I like to have my water warm with a slice of ginger or lemon.
Eileen Li is a licensed acupuncturist, Chinese medicine doctor and physical therapist. She received her clinical doctorate at Simmons University. From there, she worked in the physical rehabilitation field specializing in chronic pain research, pediatrics and geriatrics, inpatient psychiatry, and schools. Her research on chronic pain has been published in several journal publications. Follow Eileen on TikTok and Instagram.