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When people have a headache, they put their fingers or knuckles on 2 spots on their temples each. Then, they move the 2 spots around with their fingers / knuckles around without lifting the fingers / knuckles off or moving the fingers / knuckles away from those spots.

Is it natural to say "circle your temples with your fingers/knuckles" or "rub your temples with your fingers/knuckles"?

I don't think we say "rub", because when you rub something with your finger, the finger will not be fixed on just one spot but on many spots around it.

But, for this action, the finger stays in contact with the fixed spot all the time.

  • 2
    If your finger wasn't touching the surface (either directly or through a cloth of some kind) you wouldn't be rubbing! Feb 20, 2021 at 8:58
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    @KateBunting, when we rub, we might not lift the hand up, but the hand is not fixed in one place. I will update my question!
    – Tom
    Feb 20, 2021 at 10:02
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    If I was describing this, as a native US English speaker, I would certain say rub. I don't understand what you mean by "the finger will not be fixed on just one spot but on many spots around it" - the definition of rub does not imply anything about that.
    – stangdon
    Feb 20, 2021 at 21:38
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    @stangdon, in Vietnamese, we have 2 different words for it, "day" mean "you rub but your fingers or palm are fixed on 1 spot" and "chà" mean "rub but your hand may move around". You can see these 2 actions in this clip (the first movement: day, the second: chà) drive.google.com/file/d/1W-UAYZrNB5wULzRCNeFMc9sZ_9aQu9TS/…
    – Tom
    Feb 21, 2021 at 1:29
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    I don't know of a special word to indicate that the fingers stay on the same bit of skin but press on different places on the underlying bone - other than massage, as James suggested. Feb 21, 2021 at 9:26

1 Answer 1


"Rub" is fine, and I'd understand "circle". But a specific term could be

Massage your temples (in circles)

(I think "with your fingers") is probably not required.

A web search will bring up many examples of all of "rub" and "massage" and "circle" in this context. I'd use "circle", having already used "massage" or "rub", to give specific instructions on how to massage.

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