Meridian (Chinese medicine)

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This article is about the concept in traditional Chinese medicine. For other uses, see meridian (disambiguation).
Meridian system

The meridian system (simplified Chinese: 经络; traditional Chinese: 經絡; pinyin: jīngluò, also called channel network) is a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) belief about a path through which the life-energy known as "qi" flows.[1][2][3][4]

A 2001 review found little evidence to support the existence or function of qi or acupuncture meridians.[5] However, more recent studies confirm that the meridians and acupoints have many biophysical properties such as electric, thermal, acoustic, optical, magnetic, isotopic, and myoelectric characteristics, which are different from those of non-acupuncture points.[6]

Main concepts[edit]

The meridian network is typically divided into 2 categories, the jingmai (經脈) or meridian channels and the luomai (絡脈) or associated vessels (sometimes called "collaterals"). The jingmai contain the 12 tendinomuscular meridians, the 12 divergent meridians, the 12 principal meridians, the 8 extraordinary vessels as well as the Huato channel, a set of bilateral points on the lower back whose discovery is attributed to the famous physician in ancient China. The collaterals contain 15 major arteries that connect the 12 principal meridians in various ways, in addition to the interaction with their associated internal organs and other related internal structures. The collateral system also incorporates a branching expanse of capillary like vessels which spread throughout the body, namely in the 12 cutaneous regions as well as emanating from each point on the principal meridians. If one counts the number of unique points on each meridian, the total comes to 361, although 365 is usually used since it coincides with the number of days in a year. Note that this method ignores the fact that the bulk of acupoints are bilateral, making the actual total 670.

There are about 400 acupuncture points (not counting bilateral points twice) most of which are situated along the major 20 pathways (i.e. 12 primary & 8 extraordinary channels). However, by the 2nd Century AD, 649 acupuncture points were recognized in China (reckoned by counting bilateral points twice).[7][8] There are "Twelve Principal Meridians" where each meridian corresponds to either a hollow or solid organ; interacting with it and extending along a particular extremity (i.e. arm or leg). There are also "Eight Extraordinary Channels", two of which have their own sets of points, and the remaining ones connecting points on other channels.

Twelve standard meridians[edit]

The twelve standard meridians, also called Principal Meridians, are divided into Yin and Yang groups. The Yin meridians of the arm are Lung, Heart, and Pericardium. The Yang meridians of the arm are Large Intestine, Small Intestine, and Triple Burner. The Yin Meridians of the leg are Spleen, Kidney, and Liver. The Yang meridians of the leg are Stomach, Bladder, and Gall Bladder.[9]

The table below gives a more systematic list of the twelve standard meridians:[10]

Meridian name (Chinese) Quality of Yin or Yang Extremity Five Elements Organ Time of Day
Taiyin Lung Channel of Hand (手太阴肺经) or Hand's Major Yin Lung Meridian Greater Yin (taiyin, 太阴) Hand (手) Metal (金) Lung (肺) 寅 [yín]
3 a.m. to 5 a.m.
Shaoyin Heart Channel of Hand (手少阴心经) or Hand's Minor Yin Heart Meridian Lesser Yin (shaoyin, 少阴) Hand (手) Fire (火) Heart (心) 午 [wǔ]
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Jueyin Pericardium Channel of Hand (手厥阴心包经) or Hand's Absolute Yin Heart Protector Meridian Faint Yin (jueyin - 厥阴) Hand (手) Fire (火) Pericardium (心包) 戌 [xū]
7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Shaoyang Sanjiao Channel of Hand (手少阳三焦经) or Hand's Minor Yang Triple Burner Meridian Lesser Yang (shaoyang, 少阳) Hand (手) Fire (火) Triple Burner (三焦) 亥 [hài]
9 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Taiyang Small Intestine Channel of Hand (手太阳小肠经) or Hand's Major Yang Small Intestine Meridian Greater Yang (taiyang, 太阳) Hand (手) Fire (火) Small Intestine (小肠) 未 [wèi]
1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Yangming Large Intestine Channel of Hand (手阳明大肠经) or Hand's Yang Supreme Large Intestine Meridian Yang Bright (yangming, 阳明) Hand (手) Metal (金) Large Intestine (大腸) 卯 [mǎo]
5 a.m. to 7 a.m.
Taiyin Spleen Channel of Foot (足太阴脾经) or Foot's Major Yin Spleen Meridian Greater Yin (taiyin, 太阴) Foot (足) Earth (土) Spleen (脾) 巳 [sì]
9 a.m. to 11 a.m. 
Shaoyin Kidney Channel of Foot (足少阴肾经) or Foot's Minor Yin Kidney Meridian Lesser Yin (shaoyin, 少阴) Foot (足) Water (水) Kidney (腎) 酉 [yǒu]
5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Jueyin Liver Channel of Foot (足厥阴肝经) or Foot's Absolute Yin Liver Meridian Faint Yin (jueyin, 厥阴) Foot (足) Wood (木) Liver (肝) 丑 [chǒu]
1 a.m. to 3 a.m.
Shaoyang Gallbladder Channel of Foot (足少阳胆经) or Foot's Minor Yang Gallbladder Meridian Lesser Yang (shaoyang, 少阳) Foot (足) Wood (木) Gall Bladder (膽) 子 [zǐ]
11 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Taiyang Bladder Channel of Foot (足太阳膀胱经) or Foot's Major Yang Urinary Bladder Meridian Greater Yang (taiyang, 太阳) Foot (足) Water (水) Urinary bladder (膀胱) 申 [shēn]
3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Yangming Stomach Channel of Foot (足阳明胃经) or Foot's Yang Supreme Stomach Meridian Yang Bright (yangming, 阳明) Foot (足) Earth (土) Stomach (胃) 辰 [chén]
7 a.m. to 9 a.m.

Eight extraordinary meridians[edit]

The eight extraordinary meridians are of pivotal importance in the study of Qigong, T'ai chi ch'uan and Chinese alchemy.[11] These eight extra meridians are different to the standard twelve organ meridians in that they are considered to be storage vessels or reservoirs of energy and are not associated directly with the Zang Fu, i.e. internal organs. These channels were first systematically referred to in the "Spiritual Axis" chapters 17, 21 and 62, the "Classic of Difficulties" chapters 27, 28 and 29 and the "Study of the 8 Extraordinary vessels" (Qi Jing Ba Mai Kao) by Li Shi Zhen 1578.

The eight extraordinary vessels are (奇經八脈; qí jīng bā mài):[12]

  1. Conception Vessel (Ren Mai) - 任脈 [rèn mài]
  2. Governing Vessel (Du Mai) - 督脈 [dū mài]
  3. Penetrating Vessel (Chong Mai) - 衝脈 [chōng mài]
  4. Girdle Vessel (Dai Mai) - 帶脈 [dài mài]
  5. Yin linking vessel (Yin Wei Mai) - 陰維脈 [yīn wéi mài]
  6. Yang linking vessel (Yang Wei Mai) - 陽維脈 [yáng wéi mài]
  7. Yin Heel Vessel (Yin Qiao Mai) - 陰蹻脈 [yīn qiāo mài]
  8. Yang Heel Vessel (Yang Qiao Mai) - 陽蹻脈 [yáng qiāo mài]

Scientific view of traditional Chinese meridian theory[edit]

According to Science Based Medicine, "TCM is a pre-scientific superstitious view of biology and illness, similar to the humoral theory of Galen, or the notions of any pre-scientific culture. It is strange and unscientific to treat TCM as anything else. Any individual diagnostic or treatment method within TCM should be evaluated according to standard principles of science and science-based medicine, and not given special treatment."[13]

The National Council Against Health Fraud concluded that, "The World Health Organization has listed forty conditions for which claims of effectiveness have been made. They include acute and chronic pain, rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, muscle and nerve "difficulties," depression, smoking, eating disorders, drug "behavior problems," migraine, acne, ulcers, cancer, and constipation. Some chiropractors and psychologists have made unsubstantiated claims to improve dyslexia and learning disorders by acupressure. However, scientific evidence supporting these claims is either inadequate or nonexistent."[14]

After over 50 years of research, new studies explain the existence and function of the meridians, which are defined as "low resistance fluid channels where various chemical and physical transports take place. The channel is called low hydraulic resistance channel (LHRC) and the chemical transport is named volume transmission (VT)."[15] Findings confirm that meridians are individual pathways which exist among the subcutaneous tissues and serve as channels for the flow of interstitial microscopic fluid throughout the body.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Deng Yu, Zhu Shuanli, Xu Peng et al邓宇,朱栓立,徐彭等,Essence and New Translator of Channels经络英文新释译与实质,Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine中国中西医结合杂志,2000,20(8):615
  2. ^ Deng Yu, Zhu Shuanli, Xu Peng et al,New Translator with Characteristic of Wu xing Yin Yang,Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine,2000, 20 (12)
  3. ^ Deng Yu et al; Fresh Translator of Zang Xiang Fractal five System,Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine; 1999
  4. ^ Deng Yu et al,TCM Fractal Sets中医分形集,Journal of Mathematical Medicine ,1999,12(3),264-265
  5. ^ David W. Ramey (August 1, 2001). "Acupuncture Points and Meridians Do Not Exist". Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine. Retrieved July 3, 2015. 
  6. ^ Juan Li, Qing Wang, Huiling Liang, Haoxu Dong, Yan Li, Ernest Hung Yu Ng, & Xiaoke Wu (2012). "Biophysical Characteristics of Meridians and Acupoints: A Systematic Review". Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Retrieved October 19, 2015. 
  7. ^ Standard Acupuncture Nomenclature, World Health Organization
  8. ^ Needham, Joseph; Lu Gwei-Djen (1980). Celestial Lancets. Cambridge University Press. p. 100. ISBN 0-521-21513-7. 
  9. ^ Dillman, George and Chris, Thomas. Advanced Pressute Point Fighting of Ryukyu Kempo. A Dillman Karate International Book, 1994. ISBN 0-9631996-3-3
  10. ^ Peter Deadman and Mazin Al-Khafaji with Kevin Baker. "A Manuel of Acupuncture" Journal of Chinese Medicine, 2007. ISBN 978-0-9510546-5-9
  11. ^ T'ai Chi Ch'uan and Meditation by Da Liu, pages 35-41 - Routledge and Keegan Paul 1987 ISBN 0-14-019217-4
  12. ^ The foundations of Chinese Medicine by Giovanni Maciocia, pages 355-365 - Churchill Livingstone 1989. ISBN 0-443-03980-1
  13. ^ Novella, Steven (25 January 2012). "What Is Traditional Chinese Medicine?". Society for Science-Based Medicine. Retrieved 13 May 2015. 
  14. ^ "NCAHF Position Paper on Acupuncture (1990)". 16 September 1990. Retrieved 13 May 2015. 
  15. ^ Zhang WB, Wang GJ, & Fuxe K. (2015). "Classic and Modern Meridian Studies: A Review of Low Hydraulic Resistance Channels along Meridians and Their Relevance for Therapeutic Effects in Traditional Chinese Medicine.". Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Retrieved Oct 19, 2015. 
  16. ^ C. Will Chen, Chen-Jei Tai, Cheuk-Sing Choy, Chau-Yun Hsu, Shoei-Loong Lin, Wing P. Chan, Han-Sun Chiang, Chang-An Chen, & Ting-Kai Leung (7 November 2013). "Wave-Induced Flow in Meridians Demonstrated Using Photoluminescent Bioceramic Material on Acupuncture Points". Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Retrieved Oct 19, 2015. 

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