Master Tung Part Two: Low Back Pain

I think talk is cheap. It’s easy to sit around and talk about how great this system is, or how wonderful that point is, or what a good job we did. I think the only measuring stick we should use is “do our points and our style end the pain and suffering of others?” And more important, “do they work more than 80 to 85 percent of the time?” I think the strength of the Master Tung points is one of predictability. My favorite example is when I ask my wife, who isn’t an acupuncturist, to needle me. Sometimes I have pain and I can’t needle myself so I ask her if she’ll do it. I tell her exactly where to needle and what to do. And guess what? The points still work. The Tung points are arranged into 10 bodily regions described below and the effect of the Tung points are predictable, reliable and consistent.

There are 10 major bodily regions in the Tung system:

¥ Thumb/fingers Region 1
¥ Palm and dorsum of hand Region 2
¥ Lower arm Region 3
¥ Upper arm Region 4
¥ Plantar surface of foot Region 5
¥ Foot and ankle Region 6
¥ Lower leg Region 7
¥ Upper leg Region 8
¥ Ear Region 9
¥ Face and head Region 10
¥ Chest and back Region 11/12 (bleed)

Each point within each region has an assigned number, much like we refer to Lung “7 “or Spleen “6”. They all have names too but we’re going to refer to the numbers in this article to make it easier to understand. I do urge all practitioners to learn the Chinese names, which truly denote the riches of the points (e.g., point 11.17 is called “wood anger,” which gives you an idea of its potential uses). Sometimes the points are similar to TCM points (e.g., Pian Jian, which translates to “side of shoulder” and is located near Large Intestine 15) and sometimes the point may be the same as the TCM point but the Tung location is slightly different. Part of the fun of learning the Tung system is learning these alternate locations.

I always say TCM points show a path, Tung points show an area. In the same way that a TCM channel is thought of like a river, the Tung points should be thought of as the geographical locations (like the states) through which the river runs.

For the rest of this post, we’re going to look at low back pain, perhaps the most common condition you see in your clinic. Here, out of all the complexity of the Master Tung system, are five (whittled down to four) needles that can vastly improve your clinical outcomes today on every patient complaining of low back pain.

Most practitioners have probably heard of Ling Gu (point 22.05, at the junction of the first and second metacarpals). It has many indications and one of them is low back pain. As much as I love Ling Gu, I do think there are better points for low back that are certainly much less painful, so let’s talk about some alternatives.

LI 15 (Pian Jian): It’s used for intestinal issues but also sciatica and back pain. Why do I like this point so much? The Tung system takes advantage of homologous structures (meaning “like for like”) and the shoulder is a better homologous of the back than is the wrist (which Ling Gu is located near), in my opinion. It’s in a bigger muscle, bone and tendon structure and also in a joint, just like the back pain. Like Ling Gu, it’s on the Large Intestine channel, which will treat the Stomach (the psoas), Kidney (spine), Liver (the “Jin,” which is responsible for tendons, ligaments and muscles), and since it’s a Yang Ming channel it moves lots of Qi and Blood. Finally, there are fewer nerves in the upper arm and it’s a less painful location than Ling Gu to have needled.

88.25 (Zhong Jiu Li or Center Nine Miles, aka GB 31): Many people love to argue about this location. Is it GB 31 or not? I use the location that Wei Chi Young taught me, which is at GB 31. (You can locate it anyway you like. I find the midpoint of the lateral thigh and then I find the most ashi spot around GB 31.) This is the top point in the Master Tung system for systemic stress, insomnia and pain. I love it for any and all pain because people with pain always have stress and sleeping issues. You can tackle all three issues with one point.

One thing I see all the time is that many people don’t like to use the upper leg and or upper arm for treatment relying so much on the “below the elbow and knee” points. The upper leg and arm are just amazing! I would urge any and all acupuncturists to start viewing the upper leg and upper arms as wonderful sections for treatment.

33.12 (Xin Men or Heart Gate): It is 1.5 cun distal from the olecranon on the SI channel, just distal to SI 8. This is a famous point for inner knee pain but it’s also very effective for low back pain, in particular around the L2 and coccyx area. The SI channel will treat the Bladder and Kidney in the low back. From a homologous structure standpoint the elbow along the arm corresponds more to the L2 area. Via the 12 segments and or 3 jiao concepts this point is in the lower jiao and or coccyx area.

1010.25 (Zhou Shui or State Water) These are two points in the Du 18 area, threaded down from the upper to the lower Du 17 area (the external occipital protuberance/EOP). This is an easy point for those acupuncturists not familiar with Tung points because it’s on the Du Channel and the location is already known. This point is remarkable for sciatica, Du channel pain and low back pain. Traditionally this was done with two needles in the Tung system but I prefer one needle. I will typically thread one needle from DU 18 down to DU 17 and tap the EOP with the needle tip.

The magic of these points is not the points themselves but the synergy of them. When you use LI 15, 1010.25 and 33.12 on the opposite side of your pain and 88.25/GB 31 on the same side of your pain you have a very potent four-point combo for almost any type of low back pain (from L2 to coccyx area) that you will see in your clinic. All your images, channels, theories, blood stagnation, constriction, swelling, bone issues, compression, degenerations, disc involvement, muscle problems and other “usual suspects” are treated with this four-point combo. The four low back pain points here will cover all of the problems I mentioned.

The secret to treating back pain is not using a point that someone says “treats low back pain”. That is a trap. Low back pain? Is that L2? L5? T12? S2? Bone? Muscle? Tendon? L5/S1 joint? Disc? Qi and blood issues? Swelling? Is it the erectors muscles? Paraspinals? QL’s? Psoas? Multifidus? 2 of those? 6 of those, 1 of those?

You see “treating low back pain” can be ANYTHING! It’s not enough to know what any point “treats”, you need to know what your points or theory doesn’t effectively treat! Only then when you know what your points don’t treat will you know what they do treat.

Are there other points for the back? Of course. There are maybe 100 or so more. But these points we’ve discussed are extremely reliable, consistent, dependable and most of all won’t hurt your patients when you needle them.

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  1. Thanks for your post Brad. I’ve found Distal needling to be amazing for low back pain in clinic. You deliver great content. More importantly you deliver with passion.

  2. Thank you brad for your service to humanity.we are following you and always with you in your holy journey.

  3. Excellent article about acupuncture. Very much useful for those who are in learning stage. The way it has been delivered is much impressing.

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