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Can Acupuncture and Acupressure Help with Migraine Symptoms?

Managing Migraine

June 11, 2024

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Photography by Nabi Tang/Stocksy United

Photography by Nabi Tang/Stocksy United

by Clara Siegmund


Medically Reviewed by:

Kerry Boyle D.Ac., M.S., L.Ac., Dipl. Ac., CYT


by Clara Siegmund


Medically Reviewed by:

Kerry Boyle D.Ac., M.S., L.Ac., Dipl. Ac., CYT


Acupuncture may be as effective as medication at relieving and preventing migraine. Acupressure may also help, and you can do it safely yourself.

Acupuncture is an ancient form of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practiced around the world.

Its use in Western medical settings continues to expand as more and more people turn to acupuncture as a complementary treatment for a variety of conditions.

Both anecdotal and clinical research suggest acupuncture may be able to help with migraine.

Acupressure, though less widely studied compared to acupuncture, may also offer promise as a complementary method of migraine management.

Here’s a look at what acupuncture and acupressure are, and whether they can help with migraine prevention and treatment.

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Can acupuncture help with migraine symptoms?

Acupuncture is a form of TCM that has been practiced for over 2,500 years. It’s increasingly being used to treat the symptoms of multiple health conditions.

Common symptoms treated include:

  • chronic pain
  • gastrointestinal issues
  • mental health and mood issues
  • menopause symptoms
  • immune issues
  • symptoms related to infertility

A 2020 meta-analysis of 9 studies with a total of 1,484 participants reports that acupuncture may be more effective than certain migraine medications.

The review found that acupuncture was slightly more effective at reducing headache days per month, moderately effective at reducing pain intensity, and very effective at reducing study dropout rates.

Researchers concluded that acupuncture is mildly more effective and much safer than medication for the prevention of migraine.

An older 2016 systematic review examined studies comparing acupuncture treatment with either no treatment, placebo acupuncture treatment, or migraine medication.

The review found that true acupuncture is significantly more effective at preventing migraine than placebo acupuncture. Headache frequency was at least halved in 57% of people receiving acupuncture treatment versus 46% of people taking medication.

However, more research comparing effectiveness is needed.

The review recommends at least six treatment sessions for acupuncture to produce benefits.

Both reviews also note that people receiving acupuncture experienced fewer side effects than those taking medication, and were less likely to stop treatment.

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How does acupuncture work for migraine?

Research into the mechanisms behind acupuncture and pain relief is ongoing.

Acupuncture is thought to help stimulate endorphins, which help reduce feelings of pain. Acupuncture may also act on parts of the brain that process pain, changing the way it’s experienced.

Migraine-specific theories suggest that acupuncture may help suppress calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), a protein that helps control blood vessel expansion and may be involved in triggering migraine. Suppressing this protein may help prevent migraine pain.

Acupuncture may also help restore proper function in the descending pain modulatory system (DPMS), which links the brain and spinal cord and helps suppress feelings of pain. This system may not function correctly in people with migraine, which contributes to higher pain intensity during attacks.

Acupuncture may also aid in migraine prevention by helping to manage migraine triggers. For example, acupuncture may help prevent migraine triggers such as:

  • stress
  • chronic pain
  • sleep disturbances

What to expect during and after acupuncture treatment

During an acupuncture session, practitioners insert extremely thin needles into the skin at particular acupuncture points. The points used depend on the condition being treated.

The practitioner may leave the needles stationary or gently manipulate them to stimulate the acupuncture points, using different techniques according to the type of acupuncture.

In electro-acupuncture, mild electrical currents pulse through the needles, making them gently vibrate.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates acupuncture needles as medical devices. They must be sterile and labeled for single-use only. When acupuncture is done properly by a licensed and certified acupuncturist, it’s safe and nearly painless (or even pain-free).

You may feel a slight prick when needles are inserted, though some people feel nothing at all.

What to expect after treatment

After treatment, you may experience relaxation and fatigue as well as light bruising or soreness at needle insertion sites. These effects generally go away quickly.

Certain conditions or medications, like bleeding disorders or blood thinners, may make you more susceptible to bruising or light bleeding during acupuncture treatment.

If this describes you, be sure to inform your chosen acupuncturist and speak with a doctor before receiving acupuncture treatment to ensure it’s right for you.

How to find an acupuncturist

You can use a database like the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) directory to find an experienced, licensed acupuncturist by location.

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Can acupressure help with migraine symptoms?

Acupuncture points around the body can also be stimulated without needles through acupressure. It involves applying pressure externally using hands, fingers, and tools.

Research into whether acupressure can help with migraine is less developed than research into acupuncture and migraine, and results aren’t yet conclusive.

Research from 2019 suggests that DIY acupressure, which you can do yourself at home, may reduce migraine-related fatigue.

Older 2017 research indicates that acupressure may help with migraine-related nausea, but doesn’t impact pain relief or attack frequency.

How to use acupressure for migraine

Like acupuncture, acupressure can be administered by licensed professionals. You can also try gently stimulating acupressure points yourself.

Certain acupuncture points used in acupressure may already be familiar. They’re also sometimes referred to as “pressure points.”

Some acupressure points that may help with nausea and pain include:

  • LI4, located on the hand between the thumb and index finger
  • PC6, located on the inner wrist
  • EX-HN5, located at the temples
  • SJ21, located at the ear, in the depression that appears when you open your mouth
  • GB20, located where the base of the skull meets the neck on either side

If anything hurts when you press on it, you should stop.

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What are other complementary treatments for migraine?

Other forms of TCM may also be helpful for those with migraine, including cupping and ear seeding.

Cupping for migraine

Cupping is a needle-free practice in which cups are placed on the skin at various acupuncture points to create suction.

A 2021 meta-analysis showed that cupping and acupuncture combined may be more effective than acupuncture alone at treating migraine symptoms.

Ear seeds for migraine

Ear seeding is a form of auricular (ear) acupressure in which particular acupressure points are stimulated by sticking tiny seeds or beads to the ear with adhesive.

Other complementary migraine treatments

Lifestyle and alternative treatment options that may help with migraine include:

Whatever methods you try, it’s important to listen to your body and pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. Keeping a symptom journal can help you do that.

Remember to keep using your prescribed migraine treatment methods in addition to other methods you choose to explore.

The bottom line

Acupuncture and acupressure may help relieve and prevent migraine with very few side effects.

As always, consult with your primary healthcare providers before adding new forms of treatment to your migraine regimen, and be sure to find a licensed acupuncturist for safe treatment.

Medically reviewed on June 11, 2024

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About the author

Clara Siegmund

Clara Siegmund is a writer, editor, and translator (French to English) from Brooklyn, New York. She has a BA in English and French Studies from Wesleyan University and an MA in Translation from the Sorbonne. She frequently writes for women’s health publications. She is passionate about literature, reproductive justice, and using language to make information accessible.

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