Reflexology for Headaches

Tension headaches are very common, affecting as many as 40 percent of teenagers and adults. Often brought on by stress, the headache pain is caused by the tightening or contraction of the neck and scalp muscles. These are called cervicogenic headaches because they originate in the cervical spine—the seven vertebrae of the neck. Sufferers can find relief for tension and other types of headaches through reflexology.

How Does Reflexology Treat Headaches?

Foot reflexology can be particularly useful for relieving tension and stress that can cause headaches by releasing tightness in the cervical spine. It is also used to treat migraine, cluster, and sinus headaches. Reflexology can help a person anticipate the onset of a migraine by tapping into subtle symptoms that appear before the headache.

Foot Reflexology for Headaches

The spinal reflex areas are located on the medial or inside edge of the foot. The medial side of the right foot corresponds to the right side of the spine, and the medial side of the left foot corresponds to the left side of the spine. The upper medial edge of the foot corresponds to the cervical spine. Working the spinal reflex can relieve headaches that begin in the neck, as well as pain in lower portions of the spine.

The upper part of the underside of the big toe and the lower part of the toenail of the big toe correspond to the head and brain. The lower portion of the upper side of the big toe corresponds to the neck. When reflexology locates a tender spot on the part of the big toe corresponding to the neck, applying pressure to this spot will relieve the tenderness in the toe and tension in the neck that could be causing headaches.

Hand Reflexology for Headaches

Hand reflexology also can be effective for relieving headaches. Headaches are generally treated on the first joints of each finger and along the sides of the fingers. Working the sides and bottoms of the fingers helps to relax tight neck and shoulder muscles that can cause headaches. Working tender areas on the thumb is also useful. Sinus and allergy headaches may be relieved by rubbing the top joint of each finger, but not the thumb.

A reflexology spot for headaches is also located on the fleshy part of the hand between the thumb and forefinger. Rubbing the tender spot at this location with the other thumb can help relieve a headache. However, this technique should not be practiced on pregnant women.

Cluster headaches—also called suicide headaches because of their severity—may cause the big toe to swell. Practicing reflexology on the toe or thumb may relieve swelling in the appendage and in the neck at the base of the skull and ease the severity and duration of the headache.

What is Reflexology?

Reflexology is a specialized type of massage for relieving pain and inducing relaxation. It has been practiced for thousands of years. Reflexology is based on the concept that there are pressure points—called reflex points—on both the feet and hands and that these points correspond to specific parts of the body. When gentle pressure is applied to a particular point, it stimulates and relieves pain in the corresponding body part, possibly by stimulating nerve endings.

In reflexology the foot and hand are each divided into five longitudinal zones corresponding to areas of the body. The left hand and foot correspond to the left side of the body, and the right hand and foot correspond to the right side of the body. In addition, the hand has seven reflex sections.

Reflexology is most often practiced on the feet. However it can also be performed on the hands or ears. The thumb and fingers slowly massage the feet or hands, applying localized pressure to specific reflex points. Reflexology is usually performed on a dry foot, without massage oil or lotion.

Who Can Perform Reflexology?

Trained reflexology professionals perform treatments for headaches most effectively. While there is no current regulation on the practice of reflexology, most professionals have often completed certification-training courses in reflexology and other styles of massage.

Many reflexologists will teach their clients how to practice reflexology techniques on their own to enhance the therapeutic effects of treatment between sessions. By studying reflexology charts and books, many individuals are able to provide themselves with basic reflexology treatments, especially by paying special attention to tender points on the hands and feet. If you find reflexology effective for your headaches, you may consider enrolling in a training program so that you can share the benefits of reflexology with others.

Is Reflexology Effective?

Although many headache sufferers find relief with reflexology, there is little scientific evidence to support its effectiveness. A Danish study of patients with tension headaches and migraines found that reflexology treatments appeared to improve general well-being and energy levels. Patients also became more skilled at interpreting signals from their bodies and at understanding the causes of their headaches.

Is Reflexology Safe?

Reflexology is noninvasive and generally considered to be safe. However, caution is advised when practicing reflexology during pregnancy.

Reflexology should be avoided if the patient:

  • Has an infectious disease
  • Has undergone recent surgery for a malignant tumor
  • Has wounds, burns, or infections on the feet
  • Has deep-vein thrombosis or phlebitis
  • Is currently intoxicated from drugs or alcohol
  • Uses strong pain medication daily

Although reflexology is unlikely to provide a cure for serious headaches, it has afforded temporary relief to numerous headache sufferers.

Additional Resources

The Reflexology Research website offers reflexology charts and information on treating headaches.

The Southwest Institute of Healing Arts has a website on reflexology and headaches. has an article on the Danish study of reflexology and headaches.

© 2017 altMD, LLC. All rights reserved. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of altMD's terms of service and privacy policy and cookie policy and Health Disclaimer. The material on this site is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified health care provider.