TCM: Five Major Organs and Some Useful Acupoints

Updated: Jul 17

Welcome to this article series on Tradition Chinese Medicine (TCM). The aim of this series is to provide you with foundational and practical knowledge of TCM that you can use to improve your own health at home in daily life. The recommendations in this series are simple, accessible, and mostly free. After all, good health should be something that is accessible to everyone!


Here is a clickable table of contents for this series:

  1. Introduction and Foundation

  2. The Five Elements Profiles

  3. Food and Cooking

  4. The Five Major Organs

  5. The Nine Body Constitutions

  6. The Body Clock

  7. Common Treatments from a Practitioner

  8. My Experience with TCM

This article is Part 4: The Five Major Organs.

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The previous articles looked at foundational concepts of TCM such as yin yang, acupoints, the five elements, and food. This article builds on the five elements framework to talk about the five major organs in TCM:

  1. Liver

  2. Heart

  3. Spleen (and Stomach)

  4. Lungs

  5. Kidneys

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Each organ has different functions, along with linked emotions and flavors. This article will go into each organ one by one, talking about its function, symptoms of imbalance, and how to improve its health.

This article also mentions a few acupoints for each organ. Try pressing and massaging those acupoints on yourself, especially if you suspect you have problems in the relevant organ. If you massage an acupoint and feel pain, then there's a blockage there, and you should massage that point for about 5 to 10 minutes a day until the pain reduces. Usually, the pain would reduce within a week. After massaging acupoints that felt pain, you can apply a microwavable heat bag on it to provide extra heat therapy and help that point heal faster.


If there's no pain but you think you have a problem in that organ, try massaging areas around that point because you might not have located the point correctly. If there's no pain and you don't think there's a problem in that organ, then just move on.


Liver

Functions:

The liver detoxifies the body and regulates the movement of qi and in the body. The liver’s partner organ is the gallbladder, and together, they aid with digestion and processing nutrients.


In the five elements, wood controls earth. That means the liver controls the digestive organs. If there is a prolonged problem in the liver, then the digestive organs will be next to have a problem.


From an emotional perspective, a healthy liver promotes feelings of love and compassion. The liver is most damaged by stress, anger, frustration, and resentment. Since stress is so common in our modern society, most people’s livers are not as healthy as people in the past.


Symptoms of Imbalance:

  • Eye problems: red eyes, itchy eyes, dry eyes

  • Anger problems: getting disproportionately angry at small things, getting frustrated all the time

  • Bitter taste in mouth in the morning

  • No appetite

  • Insomnia

  • Too many dreams during sleep

  • Menstrual pains, PMS anger

Improving Liver Health:

  • Build peaceful emotions through activities like walking, meditation, and yoga. This is the most important thing for your liver!

  • Get enough sleep and rest

  • Avoid alcohol because it hurts the liver

  • Do gentle exercise instead of intense exercise because the liver has to send blood to repair damage done by intense exercise

  • Stop eating 2-3 hours before sleep

  • Stop eating when 80% full

  • Add some sour foods: Sour is the taste associated with the liver. If you don’t like the sour taste, it usually means you need it. Examples of sour foods include lemon, lime, oranges, tomatoes, pineapple, olives, pomegranate, and loquat.

  • Eat more green foods, especially dark leafy greens


Liver Meridian and Acupoints:

The liver meridian starts at the big toe and goes up long the inner leg to the chest.


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From the picture, we can see 14 major acupoints along the liver meridian. Not all the acupoints are easy to locate and massage yourself, but three really important acupoints that are also easy to locate are the Tai Chong, San Yin Jiao, and Qi Men.


Tai Chong (太冲)

The Tai Chong acupoint is a key point on the liver meridian. It is located where your big toe bone meets your second toe bone. Press and massage this spot on both feet.


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This acupoint helps with headache, dizziness, high blood pressure, nearsightedness and other eye problems, abnormal menstrual cycle, and numbness in hands.


San Yin Jiao (三阴交)

This acupoint connects the liver, spleen, and kidney meridians, so it is a very important point. You can locate above your ankle at a distance of the length of your four fingers as shown in the picture:

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This acupoint helps with qi flow to liver, spleen, and kidneys; menstruation; resolving dampness; and calming the mind.


Qi Men (期门)

This acupoint is located a bit under the nipple. You can start on the nipple and then go down slowly, rib by rib. You should find it within 3 ribs.

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This point helps with problems such as bloating, chest pains, vomiting, and inflammation in the digestive organs and liver.


Heart

Functions:

The heart is in charge of blood flow. In TCM, the heart is the king of all organs, meaning that other organs will sacrifice their energies for the heart to maintain its balance. The stomach and liver are two very important organs for the heart; any damage to those organs also hurt the heart. That means poor digestion, chronic stress, and excessive emotion hurt the heart.


The heart is linked to your tongue, face, and pulse. The heart is in balance if the tongue is a healthy red color, the face has a healthy complexion, and the pulse is strong.


Symptoms of Imbalance:

  • Tongue appears pale or dark purple or cracked

  • Face appears pale or overly red

  • Pulse is weak

  • Insomnia and difficulty sleeping

  • Poor blood circulation

  • Spontaneous dreaming

  • Excessive and vivid dreaming

  • Craving bitter foods


Improving Heart Health:

  • Find reasons to smile: joy is the nurturing emotion for the heart

  • Go for a slow and steady walk

  • Manage stress with relaxation activities such as meditation and yoga

  • Eat red foods: Red is the color associated with the heart under the 5 Elements Theory. Examples of red foods include tomatoes, berries, beetroot, and hawthorn.

  • Eat bitter foods: Bitter is the flavor associated with the heart. Examples of bitter foods include leafy greens, bitter melon, celery, asparagus, brussels sprouts, and dandelion tea

Heart Meridian and Acupoints

You can also try massaging acupoints along the heart meridian to see if any of them hurt. There are only 9 main points so it’s fairly easy to massage and feel the acupoints on that meridian.


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Three major acupoints that are easy to locate and try are Shao Hai (HT3), Ling Dao (HT4), and Shao Fu (HT 8).


HT3: Shao Hai (少海)

This acupoint helps with chest pain, pain or numbness in the lower arms, eye redness, toothache, and mouth ulcers. See above picture for location of HT3.


HT4: Ling Dao (灵道)

This acupoint helps with chest pain that worsens with emotion distress. It also helps with unstable emotions, depression, anxiety, and insomnia. See above picture for location of HT4.


HT 8: Shao Fu (少府)


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This acupoint helps with conditions such as heart palpitations, hot palms, sore throat, difficult urination, and mouth problems like ulcers and canker sores.


Spleen (and Stomach)

Function:

In the west, we tend to think of the stomach as the digestive organ. In TCM, the stomach works with the spleen to digest food. But when TCM refers to spleen, it also refers to the Western idea of pancreas because the pancreas also produces digestive enzymes.


The spleen’s element is earth, and just like how mother Earth nurtures all living creatures, the spleen’s digestive function nurtures all other organs. The spleen is in charge of transforming the food into qi and blood for the body to use. The spleen then sends that qi and blood to the lungs for circulation around the body.


Symptoms of Imbalance:

  • Problems in the mouth: The sensory organ linked to the spleen is the mouth, so if you have any problems in the mouth, such as bleeding gums or bad breath, then your spleen (and stomach) may have problems.

  • Problems with waste elimination, such as constipation or diarrhea

  • Problems with digestion such as bloating

  • Excessive worry or overthinking


Maintaining Spleen (and Digestive) Health:

  • Eat mostly cooked foods and avoid raw foods

  • Eat warm foods, with a temperature close to the boy temperature of 37 degrees Celsius

  • Eat until 80% full

  • Eat in a peaceful state, not in a state of stress and overthinking; do some deep breathing before eating

  • Stop eating 3 hours before bed to give your spleen time to rest

  • Light exercise (not too intense, but not too little)

Spleen and Stomach Meridians and Acupoints

The spleen meridian has 20 main acupoints, while stomach has 45 main acupoints.


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Fortunately, we can just test a few really important acupoints points for our digestive health: Zu San Li, Yin Lin Quan, San Yin Jiao.


Zu San Li (足三里)

This acupoint is located at the top of our shin under the knee cap, on the outer side of the leg.


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Apart from healing and strengthening the digestive organs, this acupoint helps with so many other things such as immunity, shock, high blood pressure, lack of blood, and asthma.


Yin Ling Quan (阴陵泉)

This acupoint is located near the Zu San Li, but instead of being on the outer side of the shin, it’s on the inner side.

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This acupoint helps with abdominal pains, loose stools and diarrhea, kidney problems, menstrual pains, and knee pain. You can also massage upwards on the line shown in the picture from the bottom to the top. That will stimulate the spleen qi.


San Yin Jiao (三阴交)

This acupoint was mentioned above in the liver section.


Lungs

Functions:

The lungs circulate qi and fluids throughout the body. They also maintain immune defense against pathogens. The lungs’ partner organ is the large intestine, and both of them help you let go of what you don’t need, whether it be carbon dioxide, bodily waste, or emotions.


Symptoms of Imbalance:

  • Problems in the nose: The nose is the sensory organ related to the lungs. Problems such as runny nose, congested nose, sneezing, or loss of smell might indicate lung problems.

  • Unhealthy looking skin due to poor qi and blood circulation

  • Excess sadness


Maintaining Lung Health:

  • Let go of things you no longer need, such as old clothes and books

  • Let go of past emotions that are weighing you down; get into spirituality

  • Maintain an active social life

  • Cover up your skin in windy weather: Wear scarves, hats, long sleeve shirts

  • Add pungent, spicy, or white foods such as garlic, ginger, onions, daikon radish, potatoes, and white mushrooms

  • Avoid cold and raw foods

  • Breathing exercises


Lung Meridian and Acupoints

You can also try massaging acupoints along the lung meridian to see if any of them hurt. There are only 11 main points so it’s fairly easy to massage and feel the acupoints on that meridian. A few great ones to test are Tai Yuan (LU9), Lie Que (LU 7), and Zhong Fu (LU1).


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Tai Yuan (太渊)

This acupoint is good for tonifying lung qi and yin, which will help with symptoms such as coughs, runny rose, sore throat, and asthma. It also helps with wrist pain and arm pain along the meridian. See above picture for the LU9 point.


Lie Que (列缺)

This acupoint is located near the inner wrist, as shown in the picture below.


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Massaging or hitting this point helps strengthen the lungs and improve the skin. It can even help people who are trying to quit smoking!


Zhong Fu (中府)

This acupoint is useful for all lung issues, especially coughing, wheezing, and asthma. It also helps to remove damp heat.

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LU2: Yun Men is very close to this point and the function of that point is very similar.


Kidneys

Functions:

In TCM, the kidneys are like the powerhouse of the body. They store a reserve of qi called “pre-natal qi” inherited from your parents; when another organ is low on qi, the kidneys will send some of that pre-natal qi to that organ. The partner organ to the kidneys is the bladder. They are both water element, which is linked to the emotion of fear. That’s why people pee their pants when terrified.


The sensory organs related to the kidneys are the ears, and the body tissue related to the kidneys are the bones.


Symptoms of Imbalance:

  • Problems in the ear: deafness, ringing in the ears, ear infections

  • Problems in bones: weak bones, teeth problems

  • Often having sever panic attacks or fear


Maintaining Kidney Health:

  • Add salty foods such as sea vegetables, seaweed/kelp, miso, millet, barley, fermented products, pickles, parsley, celery

  • Add black or blue foods such as seaweed/kelp, black beans, black rice, blackberries, blue berries, eggplant/aubergine

  • Cultivate calmness and relaxation through activities like meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises

  • Get adequate sleep, and especially sleep from 11PM to 3AM


Kidney Meridian and Acupoints

The kidney meridian has 27 main points. The points around the feet are easiest to test. A few good ones to try are Yong Quan (KD1), Tai Xi (KD3), and Fu Liu (KD7).


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Yong Quan (涌泉)

This acupoint increases kidney and heart yin, which can help with insomnia, anxiety, poor memory, rage, and night sweats. It also helps with chronic sore throat, dry mouth, headaches, constipation, and lower back pain. The above picture clearly shows the location of Yong Quan at KI 1.


Tai Xi (太溪)

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This acupoint increases kidney yang, which can help with thirst, sore throat, frequent urination, ear ringing, chronic lower back pain, and insomnia.


Fu Liu (复溜)

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This acupoint tonifies kidney yang, which helps with sweating problems (too much, too like, spontaneous), swelling, and urinary issues. It can also help with diarrhea and constipation.


Common Acupoints for Overall Health

Here are six of the most commonly used acupoints:


We've already talked about Tai Chong and Zu San Li, so next we'll look at these four:

  • Bai Hui (百会) and Si Shen Cong (四神聪)

  • He Gu (合谷)

  • Jian Jing (肩井)

  • Feng Chi (凤池)


Bai Hui (百会) and Si Shen Cong (四神聪)

The Bai Hui acupoint is located at the crown of the head. Massaging this point helps to improve memory and treat many problems such as headaches, dizziness/vertigo, insomnia, strokes, restlessness, and partial paralysis.


The four Si Shen Cong acupoints are located on the 4 sides of the Bai Hui, each one being one cun away from the Bai Hui. In this case, cun means the diameter of the widest part of your thumb. These four points aid the Bai Hui, so the effects are similar.

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You can use your finger to massage these points. Make sure to use lots of force. Another option is hit the point with your fingers or an object like a comb.


He Gu (合谷)

This acupoint is located at the junction of your index finger and thumb bones. Massaging this point helps to improve or treat pains in the head area, such as tooth pain and headaches, as well as constipation.


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You can massage this point by using the other hand’s thumb and index finger. Another option is to pinch this acupoint.


Jian Jing (肩井)

This acupoint is very useful because so many people have shoulder pain from bad posture. Massaging this point helps with shoulder soreness and stiffness, headaches, toothaches, fertility, and breast milk production in new mothers.


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The acupoint is located at the center of the shoulders. Horizontally, it is in between your spine and edge of shoulder. Vertically, it is aligned with the nipple.


Feng Chi (凤池)

These two acupoints are located at the back of the head where the two big side tendons of the neck meet the bottom of the skull.


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Massaging these two points helps with high blood pressure, colds, headaches, dizziness, neck problems, and eye problems such as myopia, glaucoma, and pink eyes.


Conclusion

This article explained the five major organs in TCM in terms of its functions, symptoms of imbalance, and how to improve its health. We can take care of our organs through lifestyle factors, food, and massaging certain acupoints on the body right in the comfort of our own home! If you do find painful acupoints, pick 1 to 3 that you want to focus on, and massage those for 5 minutes each every day. You can also apply a microwavable heat bag afterwards to give the point some extra heat therapy.


The next article will explain the nine body constitutions in TCM.