Why A Glossary of Acupuncture Terminology?

Because your acupuncturist commonly uses words in an uncommon way.


Pronounced and sometimes spelt chi

Qi/ chi is energy. Subdivisions of qi are:

Yin is cooling, restful, relaxing, conserving energy
Yang is hot, active, restless, transforming
Jing is inherited energy from parents
Yuan is constitutional energy and vitality
Ying is nutritional energy
Wei is defence energy connected to the immune system
Zhong is energy supplemented through breath. It controls blood circulation, especially to the hands and feet.


These are energy pathways running throughout the body. Subdivisions are:-

Twelve main meridians: the pathways on which most of the acupuncture points are located
Luo meridians: these are connecting meridians
TMM: these govern energy in the muscles.
Divergent meridians: deeper pathways diverting pathological qi away from organs
Eight extra meridians: These are meridians affecting our constitutional
energy, reproductive energy and body shape and posture.

Pathological Terms

Excess: this means over-activity of a meridian function, or of yin or yang.
Deficiency: means under-activity of a meridian function, or of yin or yang.
Yin deficiency leads to e.g. hot flushes, insomnia. anxiety or thirst.
Yang deficiency leads to e.g. coldness, tiredness, indigestion or backache.
Stagnation: this is usually of qi, blood or damp, and leads to pain or lumps or blockage.
Damp: Any symptom of heaviness or stickiness e.g. chronic catarrh, thrush, ME symptoms, cystitis.

Meridian Names

These are called after the organs through which they pass. However, they most often reflect pathology along the meridian pathway and only occasionally pathology in the corresponding organ. The following, extremely brief, symptom pictures will highlight the difference between
Chinese and Western usage of the terms:-

Lung – breathlessness, retention of urine, sadness and grief.
Colon –headaches, difficult labour, eye problems
Stomach – Bowel troubles, gum disorders.
Spleen – digestive problems, menstrual or bleeding problems.
Heart – insomnia, forgetfulness, anxiety, palpitations.
Small intestine – shoulder and neck pain, indecision
Bladder – backache, headache, sciatica
Kidney – sore knees, back, joints, tinnitus, impotence, night sweats.
Heart governor – chest pains, emotional difficulties, nausea and vomiting.
Triple burner – deafness, mumps, influenza, pains in the ribs, poor temperature regulation.
Gall bladder – Migraine, pains in the ribs, pituitary problems.
Liver – Anger, PMT, headache, irritable bowel syndrome.


An acupuncturist will feel for your pulse on the normal radial artery, just like your doctor or nurse. However, he or she is looking for quite different

sensations including:

28 pulse qualities e.g.
soggy – relates to damp
choppy – relates to blood stagnation
hollow – relates to blood deficiency
superficial – relates to yin deficiency
thready – deficiency symptom
There are 12 normal positions of the pulse reflecting the energy of the 12 main meridians.

Pulses of 9 regions: Occasionally pulses in other parts of the body may be checked. There are three on the face and neck, three at the hand, and three on the leg and foot. However these are not commonly used. They relate to the Taoist concept of Heaven, Earth and Mankind.

This glossary is very over-simplified. It is intended to give an impression, only, of the concepts that are used by acupuncturists, and how they differ from western medical concepts. This is not intended to be a do-it–your-self diagnostic aid. For instance insomnia can be caused by stomach excess as well as liver fire and heart yin deficiency. So please don’t self diagnose!

A final note. Just because you may have a symptom on a particular meridian, this does not mean that you will eventually get organ problems related to that meridian. Chinese medicine is much more complex than that.





I hope that this guide will be an aid to better communication between yourself and your acupuncturist.

Roisin is no longer taking patients in order to spend more time teaching classical acupuncture to a wider audience. For more information on Roisin's work, please click here