Archive for tag: acupoints

Head Hurt?

2015-07-31_1What part? Back of the head, near the neck? Top of the head? Forehead? Feeling a tight band wrapped around the whole darn thing? Is it pulsing and throbbing, sharp and stabbing? Maybe you just have a dull empty feeling going on deep inside your melon.

Each of these headaches is recognized in and treated by Traditional Chinese Medicine. If you present in a TCM clinic with the chief complaint--or even an associated complaint--of "headache," the questions will roll forth to more fully understand the condition.

What does it all mean? Isn't there just an acupuncture point equivalent to Excedrin? Yes and no. There are some acupoints that are indicated for basically any type of headache, and it will probably be effective to some extent. But, if we can diagnose thetypeof headache then we can select more specific points that address both the current pain in the head and also the root of the problem.

Here's a breakdown of some of the common types of headaches in TCM, what's causing them, and how your acupuncturist might treat them:

The Full Frontal Headache

2015-07-31_2It hurts across your forehead. Sometimes feels warm, too.

  • Root is likely in the Stomach, which is called "yang ming" in TCM. Accumulated heat will create a sharp frontal headache. Conversely, deficiency of the Stomach can create a dull frontal headache.
  • Treatment principles include relieving frontal headache pain using points like Yin Tang and DU23pluseither clearing heat from the Stomach using points such as LI4, ST8, ST44, and LI11, or tonifying the Stomach using points such as ST36, SP6, UB20, and CV12. Regulate your diet and stress to help harmonize the Stomach.

The Vertex Headache

2015-07-31_3_smallIt hurts on the top of your head. Sometimes it's throbbing, too.

  • Root is Liver-related, which is called "jue yin" in TCM. Because the Liver channel runs to the top of the head, it's easy for excess yang or heat to fly up there when you're flying off the handle. A Liver blood deficiency can cause a (dull) vertex headache, but more often it's the throbbing type up there and it's caused by Liver Yang Rising. Sometimes the Gall Bladder also gets involved, and the headache is also temporal.
  • Treatment principles include relieving vertex pain, pacifying the Liver, and subduing Yang, using points like GB20, LV2, LV3, GB9, and Tai Yang. Stop stressing out--get your blood pressure under control. Or, in the rarer case that your vertex headache is actually from Liver blood deficiency, then your points would include LV8, SP6, and KD3.

The Occipital Headache

2015-07-31_4 It hurts low down in the back of your head into the neck. You're probably coming down with a cold, too.

  • Root is an external invasion by a pathogenic factor. While TCM would probably say you have a Wind-Cold invasion, they also show understanding of the microbes carried on such a "wind" by the way a small insect is under the breeze in the character used to write it. When you've been exposed to a Wind, it attacks the back of your neck and fights to take you down right there.
  • Treatment principles include expelling the Wind and perhaps also warming the Cold. Points would include UB12, UB13, DU14, GB20, LI4, and LU7. While GB20 is a local point in the area that actually hurts, the strategy here is simply expel the wind, and the headache should follow it out.

There are more, but that's enough for today. If you have an empty feeling headache, a Kidney deficiency is likely involved. If your whole head feels like it's being wrapped up and squeezed, we call that "tai yin."


For information, make your appointment at the Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine clinic now. :) The Whole Health Center is on our NUHS campus at 200 E. Roosevelt Rd in Lombard; you can schedule an appointment at (630) 639-9664.

Kidney 1 -- You're Grounded!

Or, at least you should be, because that's basically your job. According to Deadman--our go-to acupuncture manual--"Gushing Spring," as it's called in English, has the primary function of "returning the unrooted back to its source." Actions include "descends excess from the head," "calms the spirit," and "rescues yang to revive consciousness." Pull escaping things down; root them back to the earth. Sounds pretty important...and it is.

The only point on the sole of the foot, KD1, as we short-handers call it, is also the Jing-well and wood point of the Kidney meridian. It has a strong descending power, and it can clear excess from the upper parts of the body particularly well. It's just too bad that it also happens to be perhaps the most painful acupoint to needle in the clinic. I say "in the clinic," because although this is perhaps the most painful point that we use in practice, there are at least two very intimate points--Du1 and Ren1--that would certainly be more sensitive. We. Never. Use. Those. Two. Points. But please do take a moment and look them up for your reading pleasure....

See, KD1 hardly even sounds painful now! So, why would we select KD1 to needle? In practice, it's used mostly to treat severe cases of Liver Yang Rising, Liver Wind, or Liver Fire.

Imagine a stressed out, irritable, hypertensive patient with a red face, red "whites" of the eyes, ringing ears, and an explosive headache. You're watching him, waiting for him to stroke out at any minute. Oh yeh, he's getting KD1, and make it bilateral! The process of bilaterally needling KD1 on any one patient always seems tricky. Why would they ever let you approach the second foot when the memory of how the first one went down is still so painfully fresh?

Why? Because it works. Let's revisit an account from an old--very old--2nd century Chinese doctor named Hua Tuo. He sees a General. One minute, the General has "head wind, confused mind, and visual dizziness." One minute and two KD1 needles later, the General "was immediately cured." How, you might be asking, can aKidney point so effectively resolveLiver signs and symptoms? As you might suspect, there's a short answer, reminiscent of Daoist simplicity, and then there's the longer, more complex answer that is more representative of most of Chinese medical theory.

"The Kidneys and Liver share the same origin." Well, OK then. There's our short answer. Or, for the longer version, we can go into detail about how Kidney is the mother of Liver, and water must nourish the wood to grow properly, and without the proper Kidney yin, the Liver yang cannot be held down. The way that Chinese medical theory has evolved, grown, changed, and revamped itself over the past couple of millennia is really impressive, because, as Dr. Kwon revealed to us in class, one right answer does not make the other answer wrong.

Our Western brains are trained to be logical at every turn. If energy comes from the external universe, then that's the right answer. If energy comes from within the human body, then that's the right answer. How can they both be the right answer at the same time? In Eastern philosophy, it just is. I sometimes have to remind myself that Chinese medicine isn't just a freak show of "everybody's right" or "anything goes." That would be completely ignorant of the intricacies of the system and the power of the medicine. But still, it's great that there's more than one way to the needle the patient.

To put this into action, consider some of the new ways that KD1 is treated in practice. Let's just be honest--nobody wants a needle in the bottom of the foot if they can help it. Recently, researchers have tested out the practice of making herbal plasters and applying them to the bottom of the foot over KD1, to treat such excess conditions as mouth ulcers and hypertension. Now that sounds good to me! You've turned a tortuous experience into a day at the spa.

And finally, let us not forget the power of acupressure on KD1, or as the laypeople call it--a foot massage!

Jabbing Nerves with Needles

"I hope the points aren't just nerves being shocked by needles," I said to AOM classmate Irene. As one of the few AOM students who originally came into the program to focus on herbal preparations and dietetics, I felt particularly uninformed about this whole acupuncture thing. So, there in one of the first courses on the theory of point energetics -- what the acupoints do and how they do it -- I finally vocalized, albeit in a whisper-like fashion, my growing fear: Maybe there's no meridian or point energetics beyond just sticking a needle into a nerve and hoping it stimulates something productive in the patient's body. Sure, that might still help, but it certainly doesn't have the mystique that interested me in the first place.

2014-03-14_ancient"Moving blood and qi," "balancing energy," and "harmonizing yin and yang"...these concepts are intriguing, promising, and yes, darn near magical in my opinion. If we're just jabbing people with needles and shocking them wildly, then I'm not sure I have the buy-in that a 3-year master of science in oriental medicine degree requires. So there I sat, giving power to my secret fear by speaking it aloud, not knowing what Dr. Yihyun Kwon was going to say to pull me back over to his side of the fence, and hoping that there was something more -- more ancient, more Daoist, more qi-related in any way. (Spoiler Alert. Dr. Kwon wins!) 

Irene surprised me with her response, which I recall as being something along the lines of, "So what if acupuncture is just stimulating nerves with needles?" How could she be so callous to this deep fear that I'd been subconsciously fostering for the first three months of our program? Didn't she understand that I was sitting there, suffering in silence, desperate for some oriental medicine justification?

What Dr. Kwon went on to explain in that first Energetics class, and even more so the following year in Neurophysiology of Acupuncture class, was a concept that bridged the gap between the mysticism and the mundane. He simultaneously satisfied my cravings for evidence-based medicine as well as ancient tradition. Dr. Kwon = 2. Juli's irrational fears = 0.

Photo of Dr. Kwon with studentsYes, he explained, some points are located right beside or above a nerve -- grazing it ever so slightly and eliciting that loved or hated sensation we call "de qi," when energy arrives along that meridian. Further research and dissections have confirmed that many of those points not located at a nerve are actually located exceptionally close to an artery or vein. Here's where he blows my mind in 3...2...1....

Next, he tells us that these vessels and other structures harboring acupoints are essentially wrapped up in nerve fibers themselves. Yes, readers, we've come full circle in Juli's understanding of neurophysiology (which doesn't take long). Many acupoints are on a nerve; those that aren't, still kind of are.

And now to process this information.... Do I hate this answer? Does it ruin the grandeur of ancient energy meridian theory? Nah. I took the news fairly well, all ignorance and expectations considered. In today's health care climate, I like that modern science keeps proving acupuncture theory to be true. Time and time again, I see modern western research pointing to the validity of traditional medicine. At the end of the day, or the century, who doesn't like being told, "You're right"?