Toxic Overload: Clearing the Joints & Rashes via Acupuncture
I see many people with various conditions and symptoms. It’s easy to just treat symptoms, but with deeper inquiry into the health of the body I often come to recognize lingering toxins that need to be cleared.
The main diagnostic methods for an acupuncturist and herbalist are through assessing the tongue and the radial pulse on the wrist.
Recently I was treating a man for pain in his ankles and feet, as well as pain in his shoulders. We also noticed a skin rash around his waste that he couldn’t explain.
I noticed at the very back of his tongue there were upraised red bumps which often indicate toxins lingering in his intestines and urogenital region. I also noticed a particular quality to his pulse: on the area relating to the Stomach and Gallbladder there was a “floating, tight and sharp” quality that also suggested toxins lingering in his digestive system, potentially affecting his joints.
Just because there are symptoms in one area of the body, the joints in this case, doesn’t necessarily mean this is the origination of the problem.
One of the most impressive pieces of information within Chinese medicine is that of disease transmission. Through assessing the pulse and tongue an experienced acupuncturist can determine where symptoms may be originating from. The joints are common places where toxic overload within the internal organs can manifest.
The joints are common “holding areas” for organic toxic overload. The waist is another area, as is the head (including the sinus region), as well as the blood vessels.
I often tell my patients that the process of healing may involve a detoxification process. We can simply alleviate the pain if that’s what they’d prefer, but I let them know that more likely than not the issue will either return or move somewhere else in the body if it is not fully cleared.
The issue will not fully “heal” until they fully detox whatever organ system the problem is coming from.
Treatment is therefore twofold, and sometimes even threefold. We focus to relieve the symptoms by treating where the problem currently resides. We must also treat wherever the problem has originated. Finally we must discover any deficiencies or weaknesses in the body to prevent further disease transmission. Some patients only require detox, others also require a period of rebuilding.
In the case of my patient, the problem with his joints as well as the rash around his waste was coming from the Stomach and Intestines, transmitting into his Gallbladder.
There are a set of complex acupuncture channels that are seldom used, but highly effective in clearing the body of lingering toxins. They are also very effective in treating joint problems coming from organic toxic overload. These acupuncture channels are called the Divergent Channels, named for the fact that they “divert” toxins from the internal organs into the joints to be stored. They are therefore highly effective to clear both the internal organs and the joints simultaneously.
Why do the organs need to divert and store toxic material in the joints? It is usually due to a deficiency or weakness in the body that is keeping the organs from being able to expel or resolve the problem. Thus the only way to deal with the issue is to store it somewhere. The joints are used because they are built like closets: open areas that are relatively safe to hold junk. They are also not fed by rich blood supply like other areas of the body, therefore they can effectively keep an issue quiet and hidden for quite sometime. They are also surrounded by a type of boney stick substance which enclose an issue effectively for a time.
The first sign that toxic overload is being held in the joints is pain and discomfort. Yet over time the joints will begin to degenerate due to inflammation caused by the stagnant toxins held within. They literally start to burn through the enclosure. Chinese medicine calls this process “Bi” which means obstruction syndrome. “Bi” usually begins as a “cold-damp” nature which overtime turns “hot” causing inflammation and degeneration. This is the way the joints fail.
There is another “special,” not often used acupuncture channel that treats “looseness” or weakness of the joints. This channel is called the “Great Luo (Connecting) Vessel of the Spleen.” It wraps around the chest and has a strong relationship with the circulatory system. It is the strongest of all the Luo (Connecting) Vessels in the body, a special class of acupuncture channels that manage circulatory flow and have a major impact on the emotions.
The “Great Luo” teaches the process of joint degeneration. The first strong symptom of the “Great Luo” is pain all over the body. The further progression of the “Great Luo” is the looseness of the joints, which can also mean degeneration. The theory of a “Luo Vessel” in general is a depository in the body used to hold onto unresolved issues, usually of a toxic nature. The issue can be climatic, an agent like virus or bacteria or something emotional.
The “Luo Vessels” begin by creating varicosities and lipomas (fatty deposits) on the surface of the body, used to hold onto unresolved issues. This is the process of using the circulatory system as a place for latency: unresolved issues. However once a problem goes beyond the circulatory system it can enter into the internal organs, whereby the Divergent Channels will divert the problem into the joints which prove to be much more effective holding sites until they begin to fail.
Joint issues are often the first sign that the body is holding onto toxic overload and needs to be cleared. The major danger when a holding site like the joints begins to fail is the potential that whatever was diverted from the internal organ can be returned to it. Organ toxicity can pose the danger of organ failure which can be life-threatening, whereby joint issues as uncomfortable and even debilitating as they are are usually not life-threatening.
In the clinic as I treated my patient we started “clearing out” the joints, starting with the lesser joints and moving into the more major. At the same time, we treated the Stomach and its channel system for its deficiencies. We started with the foot and then worked on the shoulder.
I assessed that the problem from the Stomach “system” was moving into that of the Gallbladder, based on the way in which my patient’s foot was bothering him. Movement assessment is another helpful method for determining in which channel a problem is rooted.
His foot was painful when he put pressure on it which is a finding associated with the Stomach channel. It was also painful when he rotated it which is associated with the Gallbladder. The site of the pain was along the Gallbladder channel.
The Gallbladder channel is also designated a bridge from the regular internal organs into what is known as the “curious organs” of which the bones (ie joints) are included. The Gallbladder also goes into the region of the uterus, genitals and lower abdomen collectively called the “Bao,” where my patient was beginning to have a skin rash develop.
There is another special acupuncture channel much like the “Great Luo of the Spleen,” but instead of wrapping around the chest like the Great Luo, this channel wraps around the waist. It is called Dai Mai: the Belt Channel. There is a special pathway that makes connection between the two wrapping vessels. Altogether they are called “Bao Mai.” This is how something from the circulatory system or chest makes its way into the urogenital or endocrine system. It is the body’s way of “stuffing” issues very deep in the body, in a state of repression. The result is often digestive, endocrine or urogenital issues including menstrual and reproductive.
I didn’t only treat the site of the pain which was along the Gallbladder channel; I also treated the channels indicated via movement assessment, as they show where the problem is likely coming from, not just where it is manifesting.
To treat the manifestation of the problem (Gallbladder channel), rooted in the Stomach, I used the tendiomuscular channels to expel “cold-damp” obstruction (Bi) in the area. These are the most superficial channels of the body, often used to treat problems affecting the muscles and skin. The major points to activate these types of channels are the “Jing-Well” points located on the digits, in this case the toes.
The nature of the pain was determine to be “cold-damp” due to pain and heaviness in the area. The area wasn’t warm to the touch, in fact it was rather cold, pale and slightly swollen: all of which indicate “cold-damp” instead of heat.
The points used to release the “cold-damp” obstruction were GB-44 and ST-45 which are “Jing Well” release points, along with GB-41 which is a type of guiding point (Shu-Stream) to direct “cold-damp” out of the deeper channel. This is also a preventive point to prevent the “cold-damp” from penetrating deeper.
Local points were added around the site of the pain, chosen via reactivity from movement and palpation, most notably at the ankle at GB-40. Moxibustion was added to warm the area and “dry the dampness.”
The foot pain disappeared after two treatments. The treatment was so effective the patient said “it felt like it was never even there.” This was obviously the latest manifestation or “transmission” of the problem, therefore the easiest to treat and quickest to resolve.
The following session we began to focus on the shoulder. To treat this major joint I started using the Divergent Channels. Each of the Divergent channels has a particular joint or bony area associated with it. The Stomach is mostly associated with the pelvis as well as the sinus region. The Gallbladder is also associated with the pelvic region as well as the hips. The shoulders are associated with the Intestines.
The Divergent Channels are complicated as they deal with disease progression and the body’s attempt to keep something “latent” or hidden (quiet) by smothering it in a heavy substance like blood or fluids. To identify the process and where a disease is moving, the “yin” fluids are assessed.
I noticed on the patient’s tongue that the center was “peeled,” lacking a coat. The tongue shows a reflexology of the internal body: the state of the organs is reflected on the tongue. The center of the tongue is reflective of the Stomach.
I surmised yet again that the problem was rooted in the Stomach, depleting the “Yin” fluids of this system to the point that the disease process began to move into the next channel system which was the Small Intestine, which diverts its problems into the shoulder joint.
Working with the Divergent Channels means we are looking to “dig out” a problem at its root by following where it is moving and where it came from. This is why Chinese medicine likes to view a patient’s complaints as related to discover a “pattern” that will indicate where a problem is rooted and where it is moving. This is the theory of working on the “root” and the “branch.” The third step to this method is prognosis as to where the problem will travel next, preventing that from happening.
I had to start at the level of the Small Intestine’s Divergent Channel as this is where the problem had moved. This suggested that the exocrine fluids (the “jin”) which are associated with the Stomach system were depleted and now the endocrine fluids (the “ye,” associated with the Small Intestine) were also being depleted. I discovered the patient was having much difficulty sleeping which can be associated with endocrine (“ye”) fluid deficiency. The problem was beginning to affect the hormones.
To treat the fluid deficiency, I strengthened the Small Intestine’s Divergent Chanel to “consolidate” and build fluids to improve his sleep and protect his hormones so he could effectively build back his energy to heal his shoulder and return the problem to the Stomach where it originated. This strategy also aims to protect and strengthen the joints in general via their fluid base and rebuilding capacity.
The acupuncture points GB-22 “Yuan Ye” at the side of the chest and BL-1 “”Jing Ming” near the eye were emphasized as they activate the Small Intestine’s Divergent Channel as well as “consolidate” and strengthen endocrine fluids. I added CV-17 “Dan Zhong” at the center of his chest to support this process. SI-10 “Nao Shu” at the shoulder was added to move blood in the region and “soothe the sinews” as well as open and clear the joint. I added elements of the Stomach’s Divergent channel to show the body where the emphasis needed to be focused, especially with points that “nourished fluids” such as CV-12 “Zhong Wan” and ST-42 “Chong Yang.”
I also added in the tendinomuscular channel for the Small Intestine with local points on his shoulder. The shoulder is best treated while moving it. I asked the patient to move his arm and tell me where the painful points were located. I treated these points along with the “Jing Well” point of the Small Intestine at SI-1 “Lesser Marsh” on the little finger. This helped to drain the “cold-damp” obstruction from the shoulder region while I was treating the interior of the body.
I asked the patient to begin taking an herbal formula that would help improve his sleep through nourishing the endocrine fluids. The formula was in the form of pills called “Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan: the Heavenly Emperor’s Special Pill to Tonify the Heart.” The major fluid nourishing herbs in this formula are Mai Men Dong and Tian Men Dong, along with Sheng Di and Xuan Shen.
I also suggested a pill that is very effective for shoulder pain: “Juan Bi Tang: Remove Painful Obstruction Combination” which includes Jiang Huang (a type of Turmeric) and Qiang Huo which target the shoulder and upper back.
I told my patient that this will be an ongoing process. I asked for his patience, since we were essentially clearing out years and years of toxic overload in his system. He also needed time to rebuild the depleted fluids in his system, which required much more than merely drinking more water. These were deep body fluids. I also informed him that clearing the major joints often takes time due to the fact that they are “relay areas” for the internal organs. Therefore healing of the problems with the internal organ system must also take place.
My patient experienced greater symptomatic relief after each treatment, mostly due to the work done on the tendinomuscular channels which often bring immediate relief. Yet we needed to keep working on the deeper layers of the body to achieve a fuller healing. This process is ongoing.