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There are a number of sites that claim that massaging a point in the webbing between thumb and index finger can relieve headaches.

  • Livestrong.com:

    One pressure point that may help relieve your headaches is located in the webbing of your hand between your thumb and index finger. Hold your hand so your palm is facing the floor and pinch the webbing with the thumb and forefinger of your opposite hand. Squeeze this area until it is tender and continue to massage for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite hand. Do not stimulate this point if you are pregnant.

    The page provides a seemingly credible reference site titled "University of Maryland Medicine" which 404s.

  • The-Energy-Healing-Site.com:

    The “Hoku point” (LI4) is excellent for headache relief. It is located on the back of the hand, in the webbing where the thumb and index finger meet. Find the exact point by bringing your thumb and index finger together. The muscle will bulge a little--that's the spot.

    Squeeze the point by putting your thumb on the point, and your index finger on the palm side of your hand. Angle the pressure toward the bone that connects with the index finger. Hold for one minute and switch hands.

    Do not use the Hoku Point if you are pregnant.

    Press the top of the feet, in the web between the big and second toes. You can either use your hands for this, working both feet at the same time, or you can use the heel of the opposite foot to work one foot at a time. Once again, hold for a minute or until you feel relief. This point is Lv3.

    Most of these suggestions of acupressure for headaches are taken from Acupressure’s Potent Points, by Michael Reed Gach.

  • ehow:

    In the webbing between the thumb and your index finger is a pressure point well known to cure headaches. The point is located close to the bone in that area, not in the center of the webbing. Use your thumb and index finger to squeeze the point on your opposite hand. If you are doing it properly, you will feel the nerve beneath the skin and some pressure as you squeeze. Squeeze the point for a minute on each hand. Be sure to take deep breaths while treating yourself.

    Use your feet. According to the art of reflexology, points on the feet are connected to the body's organs. By stimulating certain points on the feet, you can relieve a headache. In the space between the big toe and second toe is a pressure point. Use your thumb to apply pressure to the top of this spot. Rub the area for one minute.

Considering how frequently people experience headaches and the seemingly rudimentary techniques suggested above, have there been any scientific studies conducted on this subject? Also, why shouldn't pregnant women massage the webbing between the thumb and forefingers, or their big and second toes?

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The pressure point in the webbing of the hand is said to be a pressure point for encouraging induced labor. There is another spot on the medial side of the ankles. –  user11266 Jan 26 '13 at 3:54
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3 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted
+50

Reflexology is a pseudoscience.

http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/reflex.html

Reflexology is based on an absurd theory and has not been demonstrated to influence the course of any illness. Done gently, reflexology is a form of foot massage that may help people relax temporarily. Whether that is worth $35 to $100 per session or is more effective than ordinary (noncommercial) foot massage is a matter of individual choice. Claims that reflexology is effective for diagnosing or treating disease should be ignored. Such claims could lead to delay of necessary medical care or to unnecessary medical testing of people who are worried about reflexology findings.

http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/reflexology-insert-nancy-sinatra-reference-here/

The great majority of studies demonstrate reflexology had no effects that could not be replicated by beyond picking fleas off your mate (am I over sharing?). And it has no anatomic or physiologic justification.

Edzard Ernst published the following systematic review of reflexology in 2009.
Is reflexology an effective intervention? A systematic review of randomised controlled trials http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19740047

The studies examined a range of conditions: anovulation, asthma, back pain, dementia, diabetes, cancer, foot oedema in pregnancy, headache, irritable bowel syndrome, menopause, multiple sclerosis, the postoperative state and premenstrual syndrome. There were > 1 studies for asthma, the postoperative state, cancer palliation and multiple sclerosis. Five RCTs yielded positive results. Methodological quality was evaluated using the Jadad scale. The methodological quality was often poor, and sample sizes were generally low. Most higher-quality trials did not generate positive findings.
CONCLUSION: The best evidence available to date does not demonstrate convincingly that reflexology is an effective treatment for any medical condition.

The Livestrong page mentioned when to contact a doctor, so it may have referenced University of Maryland Medicine just for that. The University of Maryland Medical Reference does say that, "A massage or heat applied to the back of the upper neck can help relieve tension headaches," so it doesn't dismiss home remedies, but it doesn't say anything about pressure points in the hands and feet.

A more effective way to take your mind off your headache is to hit your thumb or toe with a hammer :-)

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have there been any scientific studies conducted on this subject?

It seems that certain types of headaches can be relieved by certain types of massage

The article Massage Therapy and Frequency of Chronic Tension Headaches says

Objectives. The effect of massage therapy on chronic nonmigraine headache was investigated.

Methods. Chronic tension headache sufferers received structured massage therapy treatment directed toward neck and shoulder muscles. Headache frequency, duration, and intensity were recorded and compared with baseline measures.

Conclusions. The muscle-specific massage therapy technique used in this study has the potential to be a functional, nonpharmacological intervention for reducing the incidence of chronic tension headache.

We can speculate that it may be that relaxing the sufferer plays some part in relieving this type of headache, in which case some individuals who believe that massaging a part of the hand may help will thereby relax and will thereby ameliorate their headache - but I've no evidence to support this.

why shouldn't pregnant women massage the webbing between the thumb and forefingers

No idea, my personal opinion is that this is simply pseudo-science gibberish mimicking the kind of language used in pharmaceutical pamphlets.

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There is a common belief that certain pressure points can increase the risk of miscarriage. The one I've always heard about is behind the heel under the Achilles tendon. This is likely a variant on the same claim and I have no idea if there's any truth behind any of them. –  William Grobman Jan 26 '13 at 4:57
    
I don't think a general study is helpful for the claim. It doesn't tell us whether pressure points are a useful construct. –  Christian Jan 26 '13 at 18:43
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It is very difficult to create double blinded studies for many pseudo-science practices because the technique is defined in such a way that the practitioner would most likely know whether they were performing the real practice or fake.

It has been reported in many cases that both real and fake practices are effective, but this only appears to show that going through the motions can create a real effect. Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Pain

Perhaps spas that show patients attention, human interaction and comfort should be used as the gold standard to compare against "alternative" medicines for efficacy. That would seem to be a more honest practice than the magic found in many alternative medicines.

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Please provide some references to support your claims. –  Sklivvz Oct 27 '12 at 9:46
    
A honest gold standard is to test against the standard treatment that physicians perscribe. Any other "gold standard" obscures the real question: "Do patients who buy this instead of the standard treatement profit?" –  Christian Feb 16 '13 at 18:37
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