Category Archives: Neck pain

Pulling the Plugs

The other day a friend of mine was experiencing a pressure headache on the top and back of the head. I suspected a backup of Qi in the Gall Bladder meridian so I held the exit point of that meridian (GB 41) but it had no effect. So I moved to the exit point of Bladder meridian (BL 67) and within two minutes the pressure and ache had gone from the head.

This gave me the idea of writing a blog about the exit points of the three yang meridians of the leg, what I call the bath plug points. When any of these points is blocked, Qi can back up along the channel all the way to the head and face, producing symptoms of pressure, fullness, congestion or pain. It is good to keep these points in mind as they can effect major improvements in health with little work.

The three yang meridians of the leg are Gall Bladder, Bladder and Stomach. They all begin on the face and wend their ways down the body to the feet, Gall Bladder down the sides of the body, Bladder down the back of the body, and Stomach down the front. These three are the longest of all the primary organ meridians and contain the most points. (Gall Bladder has 44 points, Bladder 67 and Stomach 45.) That means that over half of the acupoints of the primary meridians lie on these three yang meridians of the leg. Lots of places for blocks to occur.

Let’s look at each of these meridians in turn to see what kinds of conditions can arise when their bath plugs become stuck.

Gall Bladder 41 ~ Zulinqi ~ Foot Above Tears

This point is one of my favourites, and one that I use frequently, because our busy, demanding, stressful world can put a lot of pressure on the Gall Bladder official who is responsible for making decisions and taking action.

You can find a fuller exploration of this point in a previous blog. Here I will focus on its role as an exit point. Entry and exit points are not a part of the TCM teaching but are a significant part of the Five Element tradition. Blocks at points where Qi enters or leaves the meridian can become impediments to treatment progressing.

When GB 41 is blocked, Qi can back up along the length of the meridian, producing symptoms in the sides of the legs, hips, the sides of the ribcage, shoulders, neck, head and eyes. One of the more common conditions associated with this block is occipital and frontal headache, sometimes with pain behind the eyes and/or visual distortions.

I once treated a 50 year old client, a busy businessman, who experienced ongoing headaches, almost every day since he was a teenager. I held Foot Above Tears on both feet and could feel a tremendous congestion there. He felt nothing at all for a couple of minutes, then suddenly he practically jumped off the table as the pressure broke through the crust and he felt the pain of the points. I then continued with steady pressure for several more minutes until he no longer felt the sensation. His headache had cleared.

I didn’t see him again for a couple of months. I assumed the treatment had not worked. But when he returned, he assured me that it had and that he had been headache free for those months, and was returning because the headaches were just starting to come back. This was a significant outcome from one treatment and shows the power of this point when used at the right time

This point can also be useful when frustrations or the burdens of responsibility cause a build up of pressure in the neck and shoulders. If you press into the top of someone’s shoulders (GB 21) and there is a lot of tension, you may find that holding GB 41 will help that tension to soften and descend down the body.

Location of Gall Bladder 41

At the junction of the fourth and fifth metatarsals. Draw up between the fourth and fifth toes, cross over the tendon, and drop into the hollow between these bones where they meet.

 

 

Bladder 67 ~ Zhiyin ~ Reaching Yin

The Bladder pathway reaches the end of its long and circuitous journey down the body at BL 67 at the corner of the little toenail. As with the other exit points of the yang meridians of the leg, if this point becomes blocked, Qi can back up along the pathway which in this case includes the calves, hamstrings, hips, sacrum, back, neck, top of the head and eyes.

BL 67’s capacity to cause Qi to descend is seen in its role in promoting labour, and its particular effect of turning a baby which is in breech position. While the point is great for a woman about to give birth, it should be avoided during the earlier stages of pregnancy. We don’t want to take that plug out too soon. After the birth, this point can also help persuade the placenta to release.

As shown in the recent case of my friend, described above, when there is headache on the top (vertex) or the back (occipital) of the head, or in the neck at the upper cervical vertebrae, this point can be useful in descending that congested Qi.

The Bladder channel begins at the inner corner of the eye, just above the tear duct. When Qi is blocked here it can result in pain in the eyes, dry eyes, redness or blurred vision, an inability to make tears, or alternatively, too much tearing. The exit point at the opposite end of the meridian, Reaching Yin, can be treated to pull the Qi down the meridian.

Location of Bladder 67

On the outside corner of the nailbed of the little toe. Draw a line from the lateral border of the nail, and another from the base of the nail. The point is where these lines meet.

 

 

Stomach 42 ~ Chongyang ~ Rushing Yang

The Stomach meridian starts just under the eye in the soft tissue below the lower eyelid. It travels down through the cheeks and jaw, takes a brief side trip into the temple, continues on through the throat, and down through the breasts, the abdomen and along the front of the legs and shins, reaching the exit point at Stomach 42.

When this point becomes blocked, it can cause symptoms of pain or discomfort in any of these areas. When a person has pain in the cheeks or jaw, or there is congestion in the throat, I will check if there is a block in Stomach 42.

A block at Chongyang is often associated not only with physical symptoms in the head and throat, but also with the psycho-emotional condition of worry or over-thinking. One of the responsibilities of the Earth Element (in particular the Spleen) is the proper functioning of mental processes. When we think too much, if worry a lot, if the mind goes round and round the same issue, or even if we are doing a lot of study or other concentration, this energy can get stuck in the head. Stomach 42 can come to the rescue.

One of the functions of the Stomach Official is to receive. This is known as Stomach Receiving. The receiving of food is an obvious role, but it also is responsible for receiiving other kinds of things such as love, praise, admiration, compliments and help. People who have difficulty letting such things in or have a tendency to push away or reject these things from others, may develop a block in the Stomach receiving. Stomach 42 should be checked.

Location of Stomach 42

On the top of the foot, in a shallow hollow 1.5 cun (2 fingers width) from the ankle crease. Alternatively, draw up between the second and third toes until you fall into the hollow.

 

 

Method of Treatment

When treating these points, begin by holding both points with steady, moderate pressure for two or three minutes. A block could show itself as a feeling of fullness, like a whirlpool of congested Qi; or it could manifest as a feeling of deadness or complete absence which breaks through after a while, as described in the GB 41 case above. With sustained pressure, either of these extremes will begin to come back to centre, the Qi feeling like a comfortable presence under your fingers. For deeper work, hold the points one at a time, beginning with the left side, until you feel the bath plug pop out.

How Effective Is Self-Acupressure?

One of the most common questions I get from clients and students is, “Can I do this on myself?” The answer is, certainly! But as you might expect, it is not as effective as working with a skilled acupressure therapist. (I want to keep my job after all.) Even so, there are some things you can do to make self-acupressure an important and effective part of your health maintenance program.

With all my experience and knowledge, I cannot treat myself as well as another practitioner can. The main reason for this is that when you self-treat, you are trying to be both practitioner and client at the same time and so your intention becomes divided. As client you cannot fully relax because you are holding and focusing on the point; as practitioner you cannot bring all your attention to treating the point because you are trying to relax into it.

Another major reason that self-acupressure is limited is that it is almost impossible to see ourselves objectively. You can’t see your own blind spots. So when you try to diagnose your imbalance, you simply can’t see what you can’t see. Another practitioner is more able to view your case objectively and so may be able to choose points that will more effective for you.

When it comes to treatment of self or other, there are four levels of increasing depth at which we can treat:

  1. First Aid
  2. Symptomatic
  3. Diagnostic
  4. Constitutional

Self-acupressure is best suited to the first level, that of First Aid. Let’s say you are feeling bloated and nauseated after eating too much. Holding Stomach 36 will probably ease your condition. Maybe you have a headache with pain at the back of your head and behind your eyes. Gall Bladder 20 is a good choice for easing the pain. At this level of treatment we are choosing a single point for a single condition.

The second level, what I call the Symptomatic Level of treatment, is where you notice a range of symptoms and associations from which you recognise that a particular Element is calling for attention. Let’s say you have stomach pain and reflux, are feeling more fatigued than usual, and there is a build up of fluid in your lower legs and ankles. The Earth Element is clearly calling for attention. A treatment pattern that combines Stomach and Spleen points is probably going to treat you more deeply than simply holding Stomach 36. However, if you are doing self-acupressure, it can be difficult to hold points in combination because of the contortions you have to make. For example, holding Spleen 4 with the opposite Spleen 21 would be a good combination, but even Houdini might be stretched with this one.

The third level, the Diagnostic, looks at the interplay of all the Elements. In the above example, where the Earth is out of balance, I would be most interested in the mother Element which in this case is Fire, and the grandmother Element which is Wood. How are these other Elements involved, or even contributing to the Earth imbalance? While a practitioner can observe you objectively, you may not be able to see your own wobbles. This is especially true when working at the psycho-emotional level where our old patterns, beliefs and behaviours might obscure a clear view of ourselves.

The deepest level of treatment is at the Constitutional Level where treatment focuses on points of the Element that is at the core of our energetic structure. It can be particularly difficult to self-diagnose our Constitution. It’s hard enough to do it for someone else. If you know your Constitutional Element, then you can focus on the points of that Element, but it is not possible to sink deeply into the treatment when you are focused on doing the treatment

So far I’ve been pointing out the limitations of self-acupressure. But that is not to say that you can’t get some very good benefits from working on yourself. Here are some suggestions for getting the most out of a self-acupressure treatment.

Choosing the right point

While holding any acupoint at all will make a positive intervention into your own energetic structure, the more closely you can match your symptoms and conditions with appropriate points, the better the results will be. My book ‘The Way of the Five Elements’ is useful because it describes the locations and related conditions of 54 powerful points. It also has a good index to match points to conditions. In addition, each point comes with a list of related points so you can make your work more effective with point combinations. If you don’t have my book, simply go online and search for your condition + acupressure and you will come up with many suggestions. You could begin with a keyword search of this blog site.

Finding the point accurately

An acupuncturist who is inserting a needle needs to be accurate within 1-2 millimetres; but when using finger pressure we have more latitude as the pressure is exerted over a wider area. Even so, the more accurate you are, the more powerful the treatment will be. While a point location book will give you a picture or an anatomical description, this is not the point itself. A map is not the territory. What you must search for is the feeling of the Qi of the point. Feel for the pulsing, waving, whooshing, tingling vibration that is the sensation of the movement of Qi. This is how you will know you have the point. If you don’t feel this, try moving your finger slowly around in a small circle, looking for that feeling. It may take time for you to develop this skill, but be patient and the Qi will come to you.

Being present with the point

Do your self-treatment when you are in a quiet, restful place. Doing it while watching TV or chatting to someone will not make for effective outcomes. As you hold the point, send your mind down into the point. The Japanese symbol for an acupoint (tsubo) shows a vessel with a long neck and a little lid over it. Sustained pressure will remove the lid and allow your intention to go down into the depth of the point and influence the Qi. Treat your session as a meditation.

 

Noticing the effects

Observe what happens as you hold the point. Be as present as you can with the physical sensations, and any emotions, thoughts or memories that might arise. Just be with them without judgement or a need to change anything. You might notice energy moving in other parts of your body and perhaps other points calling to you for treatment. Don’t rush to treat elsewhere, but wait until the point you are holding feels complete before moving on. You will find one level of release after two or three minutes, but sustained holding will go to deeper and deeper levels of release.

Concluding the treatment

After you’ve finished your work, sit or lie with the effects. Notice what has changed. Notice what has not changed. You might hold your hands over your belly centre (Conception Vessel 6) as you contemplate your treatment. And when you do get up, try to take the new awareness of yourself into your daily life.

I wish you well in your explorations.

 

Neck Problems Sorted

Tianchuang – Heavenly Window – Small Intestine 16

neck problemI am currently rewriting the manual for my Five Element Acupressure courses. In doing so, I am making a change to one of the points in the palette of 50 points introduced in Level 1. For over 30 years I have been practising and teaching the basic neck release which I learned in the first acupressure class I took in 1985. One of these points, known as the Extra Neck Point, is not a meridian point, and serves as a kind of surrogate for the many other meridian points in the neck. The change I am making is to replace the extra neck point with the meridian point that is anatomically closest to it. This is Small Intestine 16, Tianchuang (Heavenly Window).

The Small Intestine meridian is the go-to meridian for neck and shoulder pain, so it is appropriate to choose the SI point in the middle of the neck. It fits well with two other SI points of the neck and shoulders release, SI 10 and SI 11. It treats neck pain, shoulder pain which radiates to the neck, and stiffness of the neck which causes difficulty in turning the head to the side. Also at the physical level, Tianchuang treats throat pain, loss of voice, lockjaw, deafness, tinnitus and ear pain.

This point is also important as one of the category of points known as the Windows of the Sky, or Windows of Heaven. (The tian part of the name means heaven.) Modern TCM texts tend to prescribe these points to clear congestion in the sense organs, interpreting tian as a reference to the head, rather than anything mystical or spiritual; and disorders where the Qi of the head is in disharmony with the Qi of the body.

Five Element practitioners have come to regard these Windows of Heaven points as also having a deeper psyhoemotional, or even psychospiritual effect. When a person has lost connection to True Nature, that which transcends the body and the small self, then these points are called for. By ‘opening the window’, the client is supported to see beyond the obscurations that have clouded his view. Each Window point is used in the context of the issues of its corresponding official. The primary function of the Small Intestine official, the Sorter, is to sort the pure from the impure. The small intestine organ itself sorts the nutrition from the waste of the food we eat. At a higher level, if we are unable to sort out what is good for us at emotional, psychological and spiritual levels, then Tianchuang can help. Ultimately, the Sorter’s role is to protect the Heart, Emperor of the kingdom. A healthy Sorter knows what is good for us and can therefore be let into the inner sanctum, and what is not good for us and needs to be kept out.

Location of Small Intestine 16

SI 16

 

At the back border of the sternocleidomastoid muscle, at the level of the laryngeal prominence (Adam’s apple). If you turn your head to the left against resistance, the muscle on the right side of the neck becomes prominent.