The meridian system is an unbroken series of pathways and channels in the human body. They contain electro magnetic energy (Qi) which nourish and energise the body. Just as blood flows through the circulatory system or lymphatic fluid flows through the lymphatic system, Qi flows through the meridian system.

Most of the acupuncture points are located on the meridian system, there are approximately three hundred and sixty points located on twelve meridians which correspond with the days and the months of the year. This illustrates the ancient Chinese notion that we are made from the same material as the universe at large, and that the human body changes physiologically as the seasons change.

The meridian system is structured like the layers of an onion, with gateways to join each layer. Qi flows from the most superficial layer of skin to the centre of the bone.  Not all of the layers are important to acupuncture, so I have kept this explanation as simple as possible,  starting with the most superficial, the layers are as follows:

  • Sun Luo meridians (skin)
  • Tendino muscular meridians (muscles, tendons, ligaments)
  • The main meridians (this level is where all the acupuncture points are located)
  • Divergent meridians (muscles, joints, ligaments, internal organs
  • The Luo meridians, (they are the pivot between the inside and outside, this is the part of the system that transports emotions from the viscera to the outside, they also connect to all the levels of meridians).
  • The extra meridians (deep reservoirs of Qi dealing with hormones and heredity).

The system is separated into parts and each part is named after the organ into which it flows. The sequence is as follows: lung, colon, stomach, spleen, heart, small intestine, bladder, kidney, pericardium, the three heater (a special organ specific to Chinese medical philosophy), gall bladder, and lastly the liver. Together they cover the entire surface of the body. All the meridians have physiological and psychological functions that are complex. It is impossible to discuss them here, but a few examples of meridian functions are as follows: the liver Qi creates the muscles, it is responsible for ensuring the smooth flow of Qi throughout the body and eliminates emotions and physical toxins (the immune system). The kidney Qi creates the bones, brain, spinal cord, and all the secretions of the body, it expels water and it is the energy distribution centre of the entire meridian system. The heart Qi is responsible for the blood flow and is the home of the spirit (it is most effected in shock)and responsible for happiness. Lastly the spleen Qi maintains all the glands in the body, and is responsible for the entire system of connective tissue such as collagen fibres in the walls of the blood vessels, or fascia that holds the organs in place.

Knowledge of the meridian system is millennia old, in my opinion we have known about its existence for as long as humans have been on earth. There are people in this day and age who have the ability to see this energy as it flows in the body, and there were more in ancient times, this is why we have accurate maps which survived until today.

The Meridian system in Pathology.
Malfunctions in the meridian system cause all disease. There are only two things that can go wrong. One is a problem with the quantity of qi, the other is a problem with the quality of qi, this covers the entire scope of human disease. Different symptoms arise depending on where in the meridian system the problem occurs. The meridian system can be affected by diet, Viruses, bacteria, heredity, radiation, medication, stress, emotional problems, and shock, to name but a few. Below you can find three basic examples of common ailments that arise in the meridian system.

1) Osteo-Arthritis  in the knee.
Arthritis is a painful degenerative joint disease characterised by swelling, inflammation and usually deformation, due to a deficiency in the production of synovial fluid in the effected joint. The most common Chinese diagnosis of arthritis in the knee joint is heat in the divergent meridian of the Stomach, on the left you can see a picture of how the stomach meridian travels through the knee joint. The pathology begins in the kidney meridian as it is responsible for the production of all fluids in the body including synovial fluid. If it is weak, energy with a cold quality begins to sink into the meridian system, in this case the stomach meridian. The defensive qi of the immune system can not neutralise this coldness and it just sits there in the  joint, sometimes for many years. Eventually the body will attempt to re-balance the coldness in the knee joint by producing heat in the meridian of the stomach to ‘burn off’ the coldness. This heat is the cause of  the inflammatory process. This can be treated using Acupuncture by calming the heat down, reestablishing the production of synovial fluid, and lastly removing the coldness, the treatment strategy is described in detail on the page entitled ‘arthritis.’

2) Ovarian cysts
There are a couple of different malfunctions in the meridian system that can produce the symptom of  ovarian cysts, here we will discuss one, the most common, heat in the energy of the spleen, which is the organ system that maintains glands The diagram on the right illustrates how the Qi of the Spleen passes by the ovaries. Heat causes the body to produce a thin sack of fuild to contain it, the fluid is the cyst, but the cause is the heat. The treatment is to use acupuncture to sedate or calm the heat (the needles do not go anywhere near the ovaries), the body then reabsorbs the cyst, as there is no longer a reason for it to be there. This is not a difficult thing to do using Acupuncture and simple ovarian cysts can normally be resolved in a few sessions. Diagnoses like poly cystic ovarian syndrome, or endometriotic cysts are  more complex, naturally they take longer to treat, but still the most important thing is still to resolve the pathological heat.

3) Prolapsed or bulging disc (slipped disc or sciatica)
Once again there are different possibilities, here we discuss one. First we need to look the disc itself. In Chinese Medicine, the bones and other related tissue like disc tissue is maintained by the metal element, metal provides the hardness required, the kidney qi is the most important metal energy. The inner part of the disc (the nucleus), is actually quite soft especially in young people, this is maintained by spleen qi, the harder, outer part (annulus) is maintained by Kidney qi. If a disc has suffered degenerative changes and is bulging outwards, compressing on the spinal cord, it means the tissue has become too soft (in western medicine they prefer the term dehydrated). Acupuncture is required to restore the hardness of metal back to the disc. Next we look at the meridian that is passing by, the picture on the left shows the du mai, or the governing vessel, travelling down the mid line of the spine, this vessel will be stagnated at the level of the disc bulge, both these problems will be available to diagnose on the pulse, so, in Chinese medicine a disc issue can be diagnosed and treated without the help of MRI scans,