Where Is Your Pain?

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TCM Gallbladder Meridian

Have you ever taken a good look at the gallbladder meridian? Like, really closely? It’s crazy!

It’s the third longest meridian in the human body, with 44 different acupuncture points. Only the stomach meridian and urinary bladder meridian are longer, with 45 and 67 points, respectively . But the stomach and urinary bladder meridians, though longer, are easier to learn because their points mostly line up. The gallbladder meridian zigs and zags all over the place. As TCM students back in the day, it made us all sigh in frustration.

It starts at the outer part of the eye, then abruptly moves to the corner of the jaw, rising quietly along the hairline at the side of the head, before winding itself around the ear, then escaping back up to the top of the head, jumping down to the side of the neck, and then winding jerkily down the entire side of the body, ending at the outer side of the 4th toe.

I used to wonder how TCM doctors even figured this stuff out. How did they know the energy of the gallbladder mapped itself onto this weird line of energy that made such startling leaps and jumps? Why were they so sure that these precise points were important, and not some other adjacent spots?

We’re told that it was a long process of trial and error, combined with acute observation, over a period of thousands of years. As a student, you try not to question it too much, and just accept it all as fact. It’s only when you see a patient with pain running along that exact line, in that weird, zig-zagging fashion, that you begin to see the genius of it all.

I had a client like that this week. She had this weird pain starting in the soft tissue of her butt, and then radiating down the entire outside of her leg, all the way down to her little toe. It was so exactly the bottom part of the gallbladder meridian, it may as well have been lit up like a string of Christmas lights. It was fascinating, really.

In treating people with gallbladder problems, I often hear complaints of pain in the right side, just under the rib cage. That is typical. Sometimes, the pain can radiate up to the base of the shoulder blade and then up the side of the neck. I see that a lot too. But leg pain is more unusual.

Luckily, this client had several of our liver/gallbladder tinctures in her cupboard and took them as advised. An hour later she called me back, relieved, to say that her searing pain had gone. Like magic!

When I first met my mother-in-law, Julia, I had never even heard of Traditional Chinese Medicine. I might have heard of acupuncture before, but back then, it still had that woo-woo, foreign, wackiness factor attached to it. If you had told me that one day I’d be treating people with Chinese herbs, tracing their lines of pain along acupuncture meridians, I would never have believed you. I wouldn’t have even known what you were talking about.

And yet, here I am. Thoroughly immersed in the stuff. I feel fortunate that I’m able to help people with this knowledge, although I often feel pretty wacky myself. When I listen to myself trying to explain certain TCM concepts to people, I know I sound ridiculous. Sometimes, I feel ridiculous! And yet, it works.

So, if you ever find yourself in pain, take a look at the gallbladder meridian and see if there’s a match. There are a lot of common pain points along its path. Shoulder, neck, or leg pain may not seem related to your gallbladder, but they often are. Then, ask yourself if you’ve you been eating a lot of fatty foods lately. How about spicy foods? Spicy foods will aggravate your liver and gallbladder too.

If you see a connection, give me a call, and I’ll set you up with some products that’ll help. It may not make sense that your neck or leg pain is somehow related to your gallbladder, but try not to think about it too much. Just know that thousands of years of trial and error have shown that there’s a connection. And specific herbs are known to work.

About the Author: Rebecca Wong has a BA in English Literature from the University of Waterloo and has been working in the herbal business since 2000. She studied at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine under respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le, and graduated from the East West School of Planetary Herbology under Michael Tierra. She received training as a yoga teacher at The Branches in Kitchener/Waterloo, and therapeutic yoga teacher training from the School for Somatic Soulwork under Deniz Aydoslu. She now teaches yoga for anxiety, depression and burnout at Rebecca's Restful Yoga Studio in Toronto.

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