Body Diagnosis In Chinese Medicine

a Chinese medicine practitioner taking the pulseBody diagnosis is an ancient art which has been used for hundreds, if not thousands of years by practitioners of Chinese medicine.

Typically, a Chinese medicine physician will use five forms of diagnosis when treating their patients. These methods of diagnosis are;

  1. Interviewing – listening
  2. Tongue diagnosis
  3. Smelling
  4. Pulse diagnosis
  5. Observing

It is in this last category of diagnosis, through observation that the method of body diagnosis is primarily used.

According to Chinese medicine, there are various signs and symptoms that one can readily observe about a person which can give away vital clues to the health of the patient. This method of body diagnosis is broken down into looking at different areas of the body, as listed below;

  • Face/head
  • Back
  • Trunk
  • Arms/hands
  • Legs/feet

What does a Chinese medicine practitioner look for?

When utilising the method of body diagnosis, the practitioner is typically looking for markings, discolorations, changes in complexion and so forth to gain an insight into the overall health of the individual.

The system of five elements plays a crucial role in understanding body diagnosis as each of the body parts are categorised into the five elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water.

The theory of body diagnosis suggests that the internal environment of an individual is reflective on the surface. Therefore, inward or internal turmoil can create an outward reflection and expression on the surface of the body.

The causes of disease are going to be affecting the body at an organ and channel level from the perspective of one who practices Chinese medicine and acupuncture.

Sometimes, when there is illness, internal turmoil of some kind, emotional imbalances and so forth, the causes can reflect themselves immediately (or very quickly) in outward signs and symptoms that we can observe by looking.

Sometimes, however, the disease can help me more insidious in nature and start to creep on over time. In these cases often the patient will not know what’s wrong with them or even that there is something wrong. However, with the various diagnostic skills (one of which being body diagnosis) the practitioner will know what is wrong, or at the very least which organs and acupuncture channels are affected and then be able to start treating the condition.

Liver Lines

a woman frowning showing liver linesAn easy way to understand this is first to consider the functions of the liver in Chinese medicine. The liver is a vital organ and is responsible for filtering the blood, among other things. However, in Chinese medicine, it is in charge of a great many more tasks than just this.

From a Chinese medicine perspective, the emotion of anger is related to and predominantly affects the liver (even though the whole body feels and experiences the emotions). If the anger is not resolved, released or expressed, then it is said to get ‘stored’ or stuck in the liver as the person begins to ruminate on it. This ‘stuck’ emotion over time can lead to blood stagnation which in turn can also create heat in the liver.

Besides, the emotion will also cause a certain amount of contraction in the liver, and the person will experience the feelings of anger, frustration, and so forth. This, in turn, can affect the person’s posture, attitude, temperament and facial expressions. When this occurs, and a person is experiencing anger, it is easy to see that the individual will most likely have a frowning expression on their face. If the anger persists over them, then this facial expression becomes more and more practised until two verticle frown lines begin to appear at the medial ends of the two eyebrows. These lines are known in Chinese medicine as ‘liver lines’ as they relate to the discord in the liver that can also manifest as the emotion of frustration and anger.

This is generally how a Chinese medicine or acupuncture practitioner will use the various tools of body diagnosis in order to interpret the health and imbalances of their patients.

Five Elements Health Project

elemental yin yangThe five elements is a cornerstone of ancient Chinese medicine and has been used for thousands of years to help practitioners of the Chinese herbalism and acupuncture interpret health and disease.

The theory of the five elements came about from the ancient masters of Chinese medicine observing the changes of nature and their impact upon health and disease. As such, they categorised everything into the elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water.

When it comes to the human body they also divided the twelve main organs into the five elements. These categorisations are;

  • Wood = Liver and Gallbladder
  • Fire = Heart, Small Intestine, Pericardium and Three Heater
  • Earth = Spleen and Stomach
  • Metal = Lung and Colon
  • Water = Kidney and Bladder

The Sheng and Ke Cycles

The Sheng and Ke cycles, which are also known as the feeding and controlling cycles respectively,  are two natural movements of the energetics between the five elements and interprets how the different organs and elements help to feed, compliment and control (hold in place) each other. For example, fire feeds earth but it also controls metal, earth feeds metal but it also controls water, metal controls wood but it also feeds water, water feeds wood but it also controls fire and wood feeds fire but it also controls earth.

When these dynamics are out of balance then ill health can occur. Therefore, the Chinese medical practitioner aims to see where these dynamics may be out of balance and work to restore the harmony between these organs and elements.

More Info On The Five Elements

Here is a great explanation of the five elements in more detail by Joel Penner