IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Do sinus massages work to relieve pain and nasal congestion?

As respiratory illnesses surge around the country, your sinuses are bound to get clogged. Some say sinus massages can relieve discomfort in seconds.
/ Source: TODAY

Sinus massages are lauded by some health and wellness figures on TikTok and beyond as an easy and fast way to drain your sinuses and relieve nasal congestion and pressure. And with numerous respiratory virus already circulating at high numbers this cold and flu season, it's a tempting trend to try to get behind.

Your sinuses are made up of eight (four pairs) small, interconnected cavities filled with air between your eyes and nose, according to Mayo Clinic. The two frontal sinuses are found above the eyes in your forehead; the two sphenoid and two ethmoid sinuses are between the eyes and behind the nose; and the two largest, the maxillary sinuses, are located under the eyes behind the cheeks.

sinus massage
Sinus massage targets the four pairs of sinuses, located near the forehead, eyes and cheeks. CDC

The sinuses are exposed to the outside world through your nasal passage, so they come in contact with allergens, viruses, bacteria, fungi and more. These can lead to symptoms like congestion, postnasal drip, mucus buildup and swelling around the face — in particular near the eyes, cheeks, nose and forehead. The maxillary sinuses are the most-often infected, and the most common cause of sinus infections is a virus.

Most sinus issues get better on their own, which is why at-home treatments may play an important role in your recovery. (Some sinus infections are due to bacteria and can be treated with antibiotics, but you need a health care provider to determine if this is the case.) The goal of a sinus massage is to relieve the discomfort caused by the excess mucus in the sinuses, including, pain and pressure in your face; runny nose; congestion; headache and postnasal drip down the back of the throat.

Many people believe that sinus massages provide relief from these symptoms thanks to the pressure and warmth from the fingers. Here's how to give yourself a sinus massage and what you can expect to feel afterward.

Why do sinuses get clogged?

According to Dr. Madeleine Schaberg, an ear, nose and throat doctor in the department of otolaryngology at Mount Sinai Health System in New York City, clogged sinuses are caused by swelling of the sinus cavities to the point where they’re unable to drain mucus.

“If you get allergies, that causes inflammation. ... A virus, a cold, any upper respiratory infections can cause inflammation,” Schaberg told TODAY. “When you get the swelling ... that’s when the sinuses fill with mucus, and you get that very pressure-y, heavy head feeling.”

There are eight sinus cavities that can get clogged on either side of your head, Dr. Peter Manes, an associate professor of surgery in the otolaryngology department at Yale School of Medicine, told TODAY.

“Some people suffer from chronic sinusitis, which is a chronic swelling or inflammation in the sinuses,” Manes explained.

How to perform a sinus massage

As the name suggests, sinus massages are a type of massage intended to alleviate pain and help drain the mucus out of sinuses. You can perform it yourself or someone else can do it, explained licensed massage therapist James Moore.

Moore said his preferred way to perform a sinus massage is to grab the nose with one hand and push it to the side, and then use your other thumb to push under the cheekbone, up and back to compress the muscle and increase blood flow “in seconds.”

Sinus massages can also be administered by licensed massage therapists, Moore said.

A recent, popular TikTok by wellness influencer Katie Sharp, who’s training to be a nurse, provides another strategy, which involves massaging either side of the nose, below the cheek bones, the forehead, on either side of the ear, and the back of the neck.

Do sinus massages work?

Schaberg said she doesn’t believe sinus massages don’t work — but because there’s a bone between the face and the sinuses, she said she’s not sure how a massage would actually drain the sinuses.

“I think there’s a 30% placebo effect where, if I tell you ... ‘This is going to drain your sinuses,’ 30% of the time it will work just because your brain willed it to,” she said.

Manes also said he’s not sure the massages actually drain the sinuses due to the bone, but he believes sinus massage can provide some relief.

“I liken it to when people are having a headache or a migraine or pain in their face. A lot of times, what do we do is we rub our face, and you’re applying pressure to that, almost as a ... distraction from the pressure that’s going on elsewhere,” he said. “I don’t want to say that (sinus massages) don’t work because they may provide some symptomatic relief, but it’s unlikely that they’re actually going to drain out mucus.”

Moore said he’s seen his clients respond well to sinus massages, especially those with seasonal allergies and asthma, and he also recommends doing massages elsewhere on the face — like the forehead and jaw — for even more relief.

“It just feels good,” he said. “It is the least invasive, cheapest, easiest way that you can self-help your sinuses, just by touching your face. How cool is that?”

How to drain your sinuses

There are also a few ways to relieve pain and drain the mucus from your cavities.

Schaberg suggested over-the-counter medication like decongestants or steroid sprays, which often work well to open up the sinuses. However, she noted, medication isn’t a quick fix and can require a few days of use to start seeing effects.

For a more immediate solution, she recommended a sinus rinse or a neti pot. “Quick fixes tend to work if you catch something early or if it’s not that bad,” she added.

Manes agreed that neti pots, sinus rinses and nasal sprays can help drain the sinuses, but he said that addressing the root cause of why the sinuses are blocked is most important.

You can also try a hot compress over the nose and forehead to relieve sinus pressure and inhaling steam from a bowl of hot water or hot shower, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.