Skip to Content

Why does pushing on your eyes feel good?

Pushing gently on your closed eyes can produce a pleasurable sensation for many people. This seemingly odd behavior is actually quite common and usually harmless. Understanding why pressing on the eyes feels good involves looking at the anatomy and physiology of the eye and visual system.

What happens when you press on your eyes?

Pressing on the eyeball activates the various sensory receptors in and around the eye. These include:

– Mechanical receptors in the cornea and conjunctiva that sense touch and pressure.

– Proprioceptors that sense the position and movement of the eyeball within the orbit.

– Photoreceptors in the retina that detect light and visual signals.

Pressing stimulates this complex web of receptors and nerves, producing both mechanical and photic sensations. These signals are transmitted via the optic nerve to the visual cortex in the brain.

Why does pressing cause phosphenes?

When pressing on the eye, most people perceive luminous flashes, colors, and geometric patterns known as phosphenes. These visual effects originate within the visual system rather than as a response to actual light entering the eye.

Pressing produces phosphenes by mechanically stimulating the retina and the cells responsible for early visual processing. It is thought that retinal ganglion cells are activated, which fire off abnormal signals to the visual cortex similar to the response elicited by light.

Phosphenes demonstrate that our eyes and brains construct representations of the visual world even in the absence of external light input. Pressing provides internal stimuli that are interpreted as if they were external visual information.

Mechanisms Behind the Pleasant Sensations

Although pressing on the eyes may seem quite unnatural, there are a few reasons this action can produce pleasurable sensations for many people.

Physical relief

Gently massaging and stimulating the eyeballs, eyelids, and surrounding regions can relieve tension, relax muscles, stimulate circulation, and ease eyestrain. The temporary physical relief can feel soothing, just as a shoulder or neck massage does.

Mental distraction

Focusing on the phosphenes and sensations from eye pressing provides a brief distraction or meditation. This short mental break from external sights and sounds can have a calming, stress-relieving effect.


Any repetitive massage-like actions can trigger the release of endorphins – “feel good” neurotransmitters produced in the central nervous system. Gentle eye pressing may boost endorphins throughout the visual pathway, creating a mild high.

Childhood associations

Pressing on the eyes is often learned in childhood. The familiar action and visual effects may be associated with youthful innocence, humor, and comfort. These long-term associations can make it continue feeling good even into adulthood.

Mechanism Explanation
Physical relief Massaging the eyes relieves tension and eyestrain
Mental distraction Phosphenes provide a meditative mental break
Endorphins Repetitive pressing may trigger “feel good” neurotransmitters
Childhood associations Familiar, youthful sensations feel comforting

Is Pressing on the Eyes Safe or Risky?

Many people enjoy pressing on their eyes recreationally with no apparent harm. However, there are some risks associated with applying too much pressure or digging forcefully into the eyeball.

Potential risks

– Corneal abrasion or ulceration

– Retinal cell damage

– Vitreous detachment

– Eye hemorrhage

– Loss of vision

These conditions can occur if the eye tissues sustain direct trauma from poking or rubbing too forcefully. Chronic eye pressing may also weaken the supportive structures of the eye over time.

When to avoid pressing

People with certain eye conditions should not press on their eyes, including:

– Glaucoma

– Recent eye surgery or injury

– Detached retina

– Macular degeneration

– Diabetic retinopathy

Pressing can worsen eye pain and damage in these unstable or compromised eyes.

Safe techniques

To minimize risks from recreational eye pressing:

– Press very gently using soft fingertips, never knuckles or objects

– Keep both eyes closed and don’t press too deeply

– Stop if pain, flashes, or floaters occur

– Avoid pressing eyes that are injured, infected, or have had recent surgery

If discomfort persists after pressing, consult an ophthalmologist to check for corneal damage or tears.

Potential Risk Explanation
Corneal abrasion Damage to outer layer of the cornea
Retinal cell damage Damage to photoreceptors and nerves in retina
Vitreous detachment Vitreous gel separates from retina
Eye hemorrhage Bleeding into eye tissues
Vision loss Permanent damage to structures needed for sight


Pressing gently on the eyes can create intriguing sensations of light, colors, and patterns due to the mechanical stimulation of retinal cells and visual pathways. This stimulation likely triggers physical relief, mental distraction, endorphins, and positive childhood associations that make pressing feel good for many people. However, forceful pressing risks corneal and retinal damage. Being mindful of safe techniques and avoiding eye pressing when injured or susceptible to damage can minimize the risks of this unusual practice. In moderation, recreational eye pressing seems to be mostly harmless and even therapeutic.