As an acupuncturist, I more often than not discover emotional links to physical pain. Several years ago, I treated a twenty-seven year old man for upper back pain. During his intake, we went through the usual litany of questions about his physical and emotional health. He admitted to feeling out of sorts about a recent breakup. Most men are fairly reticent about their emotional issues, but he was very open and willing to discuss how the breakup was affecting him. He had been depressed and apathetic since the relationship ended, and he couldn’t seem to relax. Sleeping and enjoying the other aspects of his life had become difficult.
The onset of back pain added fuel to the fire, depressing him even more.
All of his back pain was around the scapular area, which I found interesting, since we often treat that area when there are emotional disturbances. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are five major organ systems: Kidney, Lung, Heart, Spleen, and Liver. Each system has a point located on the back which builds its energy-these points are called back shus. The back shus are located approximately 1 1/2 inches away from the midline of the back. If you locate these points and then move outward a bit further, you will find acupuncture points that work on the emotional aspects of the organs-these are the outer back shus.
For example, the Kidney back shu is often used to build the energetics of the Kidney and work on issues such as low back pain, knee pain, or frequent urination. The outer back shu of the Kidney can be used for strengthening the willpower, or for a person suffering unnecessary fears.
The outer back shus of the Heart ease emotional suffering, and the outer Lung back shu can help clear unresolved grief. In general, the points that are located around the inner border of the scapula soothe the spirit, and are beneficial for sadness, anxiety, and depression. This was the area I focused on with this patient.
After his first treatment, he returned to say that his back pain was nearly gone. Not only that, but the black cloud of depression that had been around him since the breakup had lifted. He actually felt happy for the first time in weeks, and was also sleeping again. He didn’t see the connection between my treatment for his back pain and his sudden lifted spirits, but he liked the way he felt after acupuncture, so he wanted to continue.
He became a regular patient, and by the time the clinic sessions ended, it was clear that he had recovered both physically and emotionally - he actually looked like a new person.
Even if you have never set foot in an acupuncturist’s office, you have probably experienced some of what these outer back shus can do. Don’t you feel better after someone touches your upper back? A deep, vigorous massage of that area puts everyone into a better frame of mind, but even a light touch feels wonderful. I often wonder if stimulation of that area is an instinctual urge.
Think about it-when a friend tells you about something unfortunate that has happened to him or her, what is the first thing you do? Most people automatically touch that area of the back. If there is an established comfort level, there might be a hug involved, which usually includes a quick rub over the area. But even a near stranger usually feels comfortable giving a quick pat or two in that spot to buck someone up after hard news. Or, think of how you would soothe a crying child, by rubbing the upper back area. It’s just a natural urge, nothing that you ever really think about.
So the next time you are feeling stressed or unhappy, have someone press into the sides of the scapula, and put those acupoints to work!