Intro to Meridian Theory PDF   E-mail
Articles - Professor Wang on Chinese Medicine
Written by Wang Jinhuai   
Meridian theory, along with Yin Yang, Zangfu (internal organs), Qi, and blood, and Ying Wei theories form Chinese medicine's foundation. In the areas of physiology, pathology, diagnosis and treatment, meridian theory has important practical implications. In this article we will give a brief introduction.

The human body is an organic whole that possesses the abilities of self-regulation and self-control. At every instant, through mutual restriction and interaction, every part is in close contact with every other part. The meridians provide a pathway for the transportation of Qi and blood, as well as pathways for inter-connections.

The Chinese word for meridian is Jingluo. The character for Jing indicates a main pathway that is contiguous. Luo indicates the weave and intersections of a net, i.e. the collaterals. The meridians are governors of the Zangfu, they are spread throughout the entire body, extending up, down, inside and out, thereby forming a complete system. Under normal circumstances, Qi flows inside the meridians, this maintains normal biological activities. These biological activities follow certain rules, which cause the body to maintain a state of balance and harmony. Pathological changes that the body goes through can also be transmitted through the meridians, this can systematically reflect pathological phenomenon to other parts of the body. For example, an illness in the intestines caused by stagnant heat leads to a toothache. Gall bladder fire surges upward causing deafness. Heart disease causes pain in the chest and shaking hands. Lung disease causes profound pain in the hollow above the collarbone and the interior of the shoulders. These are all examples of an illness being transmitted to another area via the meridians. When a doctor grasps the rules of this activity, he can then use them as a basis for treatment and diagnosis.

The human body's five Zang, six Fu, and the pericardium, total twelve organs, each of which belong to one meridian. These are referred to as the twelve meridians. When we add the meridians that run up the front and down the back, we have fourteen meridians. These form the trunk of the meridian system, they run vertically up and down the body. The collaterals (Luo) are branches that stem off of the main trunk and spread out over the entire body. The fourteen meridians have many acupuncture points, they must all be grasped in order to practice acupuncture and acupressure.

Qi and blood are formed from the intake of food, which is transformed into essence and Qi, which fills the lung meridian and is transformed into blood. The Ying Qi in the lungs and the Qi that is breathed in combine and are circulated throughout the entire body. It is from the tai yin lung meridian of the hand that the cycle starts, circulating through all the meridians to the liver meridian to start the cycle again, like a circle with no end (see illustration.)

The Fourteen Meridians

The Tai Yin Lung Meridian of the Hand
The Yang Ming Large Intestine Meridian of the Hand
The Yang Ming Stomach Meridian of the Foot
The Tai Yin Spleen Meridian of the Foot
The Shao Yin Heart Meridian of the Hand
The Tai Yang Small Intestine Meridian of the Hand
The Tai Yang Bladder Meridian of the Foot
The Shao Yin Kidney Meridian of the Foot
The Jue Yin Pericardium Meridian of Hand
The Shao Yang Triple Warmer Meridian of Hand
The Shao Yang Gall Bladder Meridian of the Foot
The Jue Yin Liver Meridian of the Foot
The Conception Vessel
The Governing Vessel

The Tai Yin Lung Meridian of the Hand

This meridian starts at the stomach in the middle warmer. It heads downward passing through the large intestine, turns upward, encircles the upper opening of the stomach, passes through the diaphragm, and enters the lungs. The meridian continues to head upward toward the throat where it turns to go out laterally to the armpit. There it breaks the surface of the body at the first acupoint. From here it follows along the medial side of the upper arm, continues along the inside of the lower arm, and ends at the tip of the thumb, the final acupoint of the eleven on this meridian is located here. This is a Yin meridian because it originates in the trunk and flows out to the hand. The character Tai [extreme] indicates that the Yin Qi is strongest here. There is a branch at the wrist that goes to the index finger and connects with the large intestine meridian.

A disorder in the lung meridian can appear as a shortness of breath, swelling in the chest area, pain around the collar bone, heat in the palms of the hands, pain in the shoulders and upper arms, discoloration of the urine, and other symptoms.

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Tai Yin Lung Meridian of the Hand


The Yang Ming Large Intestine Meridian of the Hand

The large intestine meridian begins at the index finger, where the lung meridian ends. This is also the location of the first acupoint on this meridian. It flows along the back of the hand, outside of the lower and upper arm and forks at the collarbone. One branch heads down, enters the chest cavity, connects with the lungs, and continues downward to the large intestine. The other branch turns upward and enters the dental groove, it then surfaces at the side of the nose. In total there are 20 acupoints on this meridian. As the name indicates, this is a Yang meridian.

Pathological changes in this meridian can appear as pain in the lower teeth, yellow discoloration of the eye, dryness of the mouth, bloody nose, pain extending from the shoulder to the index finger, swelling and pain in the throat, and other symptoms.

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The Yang Ming Stomach Meridian of the Foot

This meridian originates at the side of the nose where it joins the large intestine meridian. It flows upward toward the bridge of the nose and out under the eye. From here it enters the dental groove, circles around the corner of the mouth and forks. One branch heads upward to the forehead, the other heads downward and has one branch on the interior of the body and one on the exterior. It connects to the spleen and stomach and continues to head downward following along the outside edge of the front of the leg and winds up on the lateral edge of the second toe. The lower leg also has another branch. In total there are 45 acupoints on this Yang meridian.

When there is an illness in this meridian, the symptoms are not limited to swelling of the abdomen, pain in the chest area, and the feeling of hunger pains, manifestations can also appear as headaches, inflammation of the nose, bloody nose, pain in the chest, pain in the legs near the groin, pain in the front of the legs, shortness of breath, tendency to fright, and mania caused by excessive heat.

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The Tai Yin Spleen Meridian of the Foot

This meridian begins at the ending point of the stomach meridian, on the inside edge of the big toe. It traverses the inside edge of the foot and leg as it heads up to the abdomen. The spleen meridian of course belongs to the spleen, but it also has a collateral to the stomach. Heading upwards from the abdomen, it passes through the diaphragm and chest where it enters the throat and base of the tongue. There is a branch at the stomach that goes to the heart. As the name indicates, this a Yin meridian. Issues with this meridian can manifest as pain at the base of the tongue, irritability, and restriction in movement of the big toe.

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The Shao Yin Heart Meridian of the Hand

Joining the spleen meridian at the heart, this meridian first heads downward and passes through the small intestines, then turns upward and splits into two branches. One branch continues upward to the eye, the other passes by the lungs and heads out to the armpit where it breaks the surface of the body. From here, along the inside of the arm and extending down to the small finger, there are nine acupoints. As the name indicates this is a Yin meridian. Pathological changes in the heart meridian can lead to yellow discoloration of the eye, pain in the sides of the trunk, pain or coldness on the insides of the arms, heat in the palms of the hands, dry throat and thirst, and pain in the region in front of the heart.

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The Shao Yin Heart Meridian of the Hand

The Tai Yang Small Intestine Meridian of the Hand

The small intestine meridian starts on the outside edge of the small finger where the heart meridian ends. It follows along the outside edge of the arm, heads into the trunk and branches at the collarbone. One branch heads down into the chest, connects to the heart, and continues downward to the small intestine. The other branch heads up to the face where it forks again, going to the ear and points below the eye. In total there are 10 acupoints on this Yang meridian. Pathology of the small intestine meridian can lead to yellow discoloration of the eye, hearing dysfunction, and pain throughout the arm, shoulder and neck.

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The Tai Yang Small Intestine Meridian of the Hand


The Tai Yang Bladder Meridian of the Foot

The bladder meridian connects with the small intestine at the inside corner of the eye. From here it heads up to the forehead, passes through the brain, and heads up to the top of the head where it branches. Both branches continue downward along the back. At the waist both branches pass through the kidneys, where they make their connection to the bladder. From here the two branches continue downward along the leg, finally ending at the outside edge of the small toe, in total there are 67 acupoints. Pathological changes in this Yang meridian can lead to severe headaches and neck aches, waist and back pain, epilepsy, yellowing of the eyes, and bloody noses.

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The Tai Yang Bladder Meridian of the Foot


The Shao Yin Kidney Meridian of the Foot

The kidney meridian starts at the edge of the small toe, where it connects with the bladder meridian. It travels along the inside of the foot and leg and heads upwards to enter the abdomen where it connects to the kidneys. It passes through the bladder, continues upward where it passes the lungs and connects with the heart. It then heads to the base of the tongue where it branches. In total there are 27 acupoints on this Yin meridian. Pathological changes of the kidney meridian can lead to waist pain, dryness of the throat, irritability, diarrhea, heat in the sole of the foot, and weakness of the legs.

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The Shao Yin Kidney Meridian of the Foot



The Jue Yin Pericardium Meridian of the Hand

The pericardium meridian starts in the middle of the front of the chest, it connects with the kidney meridian at that point. From here it heads directly to its organ. Heading downward it connects with the triple warmer, connecting with several organs. A branch heads off laterally from the starting point, traversing the chest cavity it breaks the surface of the body near the armpit. From here it heads down the middle of the inside of the arm, through the middle of the palms and out to the tip of the middle finger. In total there are nine acupoints on this Yin meridian. Pathology of this meridian can lead to burning in the palms of the hands, irritability, pain or fullness at the base of the throat, redness of the face, excessive laughter, swelling or pain on the armpit.

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The Jue Yin Pericardium Meridian of the Foot


The Shao Yang Triple Warmer Meridian of the Hand

The triple warmer meridian starts at the tip of the ring finger where it connects with a branch of the pericardium meridian. It travels along the outside of the middle of the arm to the middle of the shoulder. From here it enters the body, heading for the pericardium, and descending through the triple warmer. There is a branch in the chest that heads upward, breaking the surface of the body at the collarbone. Proceeding upward, it encircles the back of the ear and ends at the outside edge of the eyebrow. In total there are 23 acupoints on this Yang meridian. Pathology of the triple warmer meridian can lead to deafness, swelling and pain of the throat, excessive perspiration, and pain throughout the back of upper arms and shoulders.

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The Shao Yang Triple Warmer Meridian of the Hand


The Shao Yang Gall Bladder Meridian of the Foot

The gall bladder meridian begins at the outside tip of the eyebrow, where it connects with the triple warmer meridian. This meridian immediately branches to the forehead and circles around the ear. The two branches intersect at the collarbone where they split again with one branch descending internally and the other descending externally. The internal branch enters the gall bladder and connects with the liver. The external branch follows along the outside edge of the trunk and leg until reaches the small toe. In total this Yang meridian has 44 acupoints. Pathological changes of this meridian can lead to a bitter taste in the mouth, headaches on one side of the head, and pain in areas that are on the path of this meridian.

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The Shao Yang Gall Bladder Meridian of the Foot



The Jue Yin Liver Meridian of the Foot

The liver meridian starts at a branch of the gall bladder meridian on the big toe. It heads upward along the inside of the leg, circles around the genitals, enters the lower abdomen, connects to its organ, the liver, and then connects to the gall bladder. From here it branches into external and internal routes. The external branch heads upward passing through the eye and connecting with the governing vessel/meridian at the top of the head. The internal branch heads upward from the liver, passes through the diaphragm, and flows into the lungs. In total there are 14 acupoints on this Yin meridian. A broad description of the disorders caused by pathology of this meridian would include swelling and pain around the ribs, nausea, vomiting, and poor digestion.

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The Jue Yin Liver Meridian of the Foot



The Conception Vessel

The conception vessel begins at Huiyin (a point on the perineum), travels directly up the center of the front of the body until it reaches the lower lip and enters the mouth at this point there are also branches that extend up under each eye. There are 24 acupoints on this Yin meridian, it is one of the extra ordinary channels and connects with all other Yin meridians. Pathology of this meridian can lead to stranguria, loss of control over the bladder, pain of the genitals, and hernia.

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The Conception Vessel



The Governing Vessel

The governing vessel begins at the Huiyin point [on the perineum] and heads directly up the middle of the back until it reaches the top of the head, from here it descends to the middle of the nose and the upper lip. This Yang meridian has 28 acupoints in total and is one of the extra ordinary channels. The governing vessel connects with all other Yang meridians. Pathology of this meridian can lead to rigidity of the back and abnormal moods.

The conception and governing vessels are not directly connected to any organs and are called extra-ordinary channels. They unite the 12 meridians and have the functions of storage and regulation of Qi and blood for the other meridians.

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The Governing Vessel


From "Introduction to Chinese Medical Theory"
Translated by Roger Jacques