First things first—what is an acupuncture point?
Within classical Chinese medicine, acupuncture points are locations on the body that map the trajectory of channels or pathways (more commonly known as meridians) through which vital energy or qi flows. There are more than four hundred points throughout the human body.
Water—the root of all life:
Ancient Chinese philosophy envisages the flow of water in nature (from its source in the mountains to its home in the sea) as being mirrored within the body as the flow of qi. Within the body, this flow emerges from its source at the tips of the fingers and toes and moves to deeper levels through the five transport or shu points to eventually reach its home in the organs (zang/fu). With this in mind, the shu points can be viewed as per their relationship with water: the root of all life.
The five shu points:
Chapters 1 and 2 of the Huang Di Nei Jing Ling Shu or Spiritual Pivot introduce the shu points as follows:
- as located at or below the elbows and knees
- as possessing energetic qualities relative to each other by which they are defined: elemental; seasonal/directional; the quality and flow of qi through each point,
- as residing on the twelve primary channels and, by extension, as having an association with qi circulation of the Jing Mai (and Luo vessels), and
- as having a collective role in supporting and regulating the five zang.
“Of conduit vessels there are twelve. Of network vessels there are 15.Unschuld, 2016a:46-47
Altogether these are 27 qi, including above and below.
Where they exit, these are the wells [jing-well].
Where they move in swift currents, these are the creeks [ying-spring].
Where they flow, these are the transport openings [shu-stream].
Where they permit passage, these are the streams [jing-river].
Where they enter, these are the confluences [he-sea]…
The passage of all 27 qi touches the transport openings of the five long-term depots.”
Ok, so what are jing-well points?
Jing-well points are a group of acupuncture points located at the tips of the fingers and toes, where there is little flesh. The qi at these points is considered to be shallow and narrow, yet dynamic—pouring forth like a spring or well. As the most superficial and sensitive points on these channels, they are frequently used for treating acute conditions, such as headaches, fever or pain. The volatility of the qi at these points is further emphasised by the fact that these locations at the extremities of the hands and feet are where yin and yang channels converge, where the qi changes direction and polarity (yin transforms into yang and vice versa), and where the human body forms an interface with the exterior—ie. Heaven (yang) and Earth (yin) or our external environment.
What do jing-well points do?
Classically, jing-well points are said to treat fullness below the Heart (NanJing 68) and diseases of the zang or yin organs (LingShu 44). Additionally, they may be used to restore consciousness, calm the spirit (shen) and clear heat and stagnation from the opposite ends of their respective channels.
Clearing heat and calming the spirit (shen):
Jing-well points are where the energy of the channels begins. They are often used to clear blockages or stagnant heat, particularly from the opposite ends of their respective channels, and to stimulate the flow of qi. In addition, they are believed to influence the mind and emotions, and can be used to treat conditions such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
The bloodletting of the six jing-well points of the hands is a first-aid measure in classical Chinese medicine. This approach has been used clinically for thousands of years and is said to improve consciousness in patients with minor infarct damage and to regulate the circulatory system.
Fullness below the Heart:
According to Chapter 68 of the NanJing (Classic of Difficult Questions), the primary function of jing-well points is to treat fullness below the Heart.
Chapter 8 of the Huang Di NeiJing SuWen (Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic) likens the organs within our bodies to government officials; each holds a specific and vital role in ensuring the smooth running of the country and maintaining an internal social and political equilibrium and hierarchy.
The heart is the official functioning as ruler.
Spirit brilliance originates in it.
The lung is the official functioning as chancellor and mentor.
Order and moderation originate in it.
The liver is the official functioning as general.
Planning and deliberation originate in it.
The gallbladder is the official functioning as rectifier.
Decisions and judgments originate in it.
The dan zhong is the official functioning as minister and envoy.
Joy and happiness originate in it.
The spleen and the stomach are the officials responsible for grain storage.
The five flavours originate from them.
The large intestine is the official functioning as transmitter along the Way.
Changes and transformations originate in it.
The small intestine is the official functioning as recipient of what has been perfected.
The transformation of things originates in it.
The kidneys are the official functioning as operator with force.
Technical skills and expertise originate from them.
The triple burner is the official functioning as opener of channels.
The paths of water originate in it.
The urinary bladder is the official functioning as regional rectifier.
The body liquids are stored in it.
When the qi is transformed, then [urine] can originate [from there].
When the qi is transformed, then [urine] can originate [from there].
Hence, if the ruler is enlightened, his subjects are in peace.
To nourish one’s life on the basis of this results in longevity.
There will be no risk of failure till the end of all generations.
Thereby ruling the world will result in a most obvious success.
If the ruler is not enlightened, then the twelve officials are in danger.
This causes the paths to be obstructed and impassable.
The physical appearance will suffer severe harm.
To nourish life on the basis of this results in calamities.
Thereby ruling the world will greatly endanger the ancestral temple.
Huang Di NeiJing Suwen (Chapter 8)
Within Chinese medicine philosophy, the Heart is considered the Emperor of the body and is responsible for circulating blood and qi throughout the body. Fullness below the Heart may have various causes and contexts depending on an individual’s health status, symptoms and unique constitutional traits. It is not a specific medical term but could refer to a sensation of pressure or tightness in the chest or discomfort/bloating in the area below the chest and above the abdomen. It may signify a disharmony between the Heart and digestive system and can be associated with the Chinese concept of qi stagnation or qi constraint. In some cases, fullness below the Heart could be a symptom of a digestive issue such as gastroesophageal reflux (acid reflux), gastritis, poor appetite or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It could also be indicative of a cardiovascular problem, such as angina or heart attack. Other potential causes could include anxiety, stress, poor diet, lack of exercise or musculoskeletal issues in the chest or upper back. In any case, if the Emperor cannot rule effectively, our internal political and social landscape will be in disarray. This inner balance and hierarchy must be restored to maintain a balance of health.
Disorders of the zang (yin) organs:
In Chinese medicine, the zang or yin organs refer to the solid internal organs, including the Heart, Liver, Spleen, Lung, and Kidneys. These organs are vital to the body’s overall health and wellbeing. According to Chapter 44 of the Huang Di NeiJing LingShu (The Spiritual Pivot), jing-well points are indicated in the treatment of disorders of the zang.
Entry and Exit points:
When looking at the twelve primary channels through the lens of channel theory, entry and exit points are locations where the qi changes direction and polarity; for example, where yin transforms into yang and vice versa.
Entry points are located at the beginning of a channel, where qi enters the body, and are often used to tonify or strengthen the associated channel, organ or body part. On the other hand, exit points are located at the end of a channel, where the energy exits the body, and are often used to disperse or clear energy from the associated channel, organ or body part.
On yang channels, jing-well points are always entry points; on yin channels, jing-well points are always exit points. However, the commonality with all jing-well points is that they are locations where the human body interfaces with the exterior at the extremities. It is for this reason, therefore, that all jing-well points are more commonly used to disperse or clear stagnant qi or excess heat from their associated channels, organs or body parts regardless of their denotation as entry or exit points.
For example, the Large Intestine entry point (Co-1) is located on the tip of the index finger and is used to clear heat and toxins from the head and sinuses, and to treat acute febrile disorders, headaches and sore throat. The Large Intestine exit point (LI-20) is located on the side of the nose and is also used to treat sinusitis and other nasal disorders.
In some cases, entry and exit points are combined in treatment to balance the flow of qi between two related channels. For example, the Spleen entry point (SP-1) and Stomach exit point (ST-42) are often combined to treat digestive disorders and to facilitate movement from the Stomach channel (yang) to the Spleen channel (yin)—i.e. balancing the Earth element.
Jing-well points and bloodletting:
Bloodletting is sometimes used as a therapeutic technique to clear stagnant heat—particularly at the opposite end of a channel.
Bloodletting involves the controlled removal of a small amount of blood (usually a drop or two) using a lancet or other sharp instrument. This technique is believed to promote the movement of qi and blood, and to relieve pain and other acute symptoms.
Finally, all jing-well points are departure points of their associated channel’s tendino-muscular meridians and influence their respective divergent channels.
What do the different jing-well points do?
Aside from the common functions mentioned above that are associated with all jing-well points, these twelve points are each said to have the following specific functions:
- Lung jing-well point (LU-11): Clears heat, benefits the throat and is helpful for sore throat, hoarseness and other respiratory disorders.
- Large Intestine jing-well point (LI-1): Clears heat and toxins, and is used to treat acute febrile disorders, headaches and sore throat.
- Stomach jing-well point (ST-45): Resolves stagnation in the Stomach and is used to treat nausea, vomiting and digestive disorders.
- Spleen jing-well point (SP-1): Regulates the Spleen, promotes digestion and is helpful for digestive issues, fatigue and low energy.
- Heart jing-well point (HT-9): Clears heat, benefits the Heart and is helpful for anxiety, insomnia and other emotional disorders.
- Small Intestine jing-well point (SI-1): Clears heat, benefits the ears and eyes, and is helpful for eye pain, earaches and tinnitus.
- Bladder jing-well point (BL-67): Resolves stagnation in the Bladder and is used to treat urinary disorders, menstrual cramps and headaches.
- Kidney jing-well point (KD-1): Tonifies the Kidneys, promotes urination and is helpful for urinary disorders, low back pain and oedema.
- Pericardium jing-well point (PC-9): Clears heat, benefits the Heart and is helpful for chest pain, palpitations and other heart-related disorders.
- Triple Heater jing-well point (TH-1): Clears heat, benefits the ear and is helpful for ear infections, tinnitus and sore throat.
- Gallbladder jing-well point (GB-44): Clears heat, benefits the head and is helpful for headache, dizziness and eye pain.
- Liver jing-well point (LIV-1): Clears heat, benefits the genitals, and is helpful for menstrual disorders, impotence and other reproductive system disorders.
Overall, jing-well points are used to treat acute conditions and relieve symptoms quickly. However, they can also be used in conjunction with other acupuncture points to address chronic health conditions and promote overall wellness.
Can acupuncture help me?
There is much high-quality research suggesting that acupuncture is effective in the treatment of pain.
For the most up-to-date research and evidence on the efficacy of acupuncture, please visit the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) website.