Acupuncture & Plum Pit Qi

Acupuncture & Plum Pit Qi
abstracted & translated by

Honora Lee Wolfe, Dipl. Ac., Lic. Ac., FNAAOM

Keywords: Chinese medicine, acupuncture, psychiatry, neurotic esophageal stenosis, globus hystericus, plum pit qi, He Gu (LI 4)

In Chinese medicine, plum pit qi corresponds to globus hystericus or neurotic esophageal stenosis in Western medicine. It refers to a sensation as if something were stuck in the back of the throat which can neither be spit up or swallowed down. In the Chinese medical literature, this feeling is likened to a plum pit stuck in the throat or a piece of roasted meat. As its Western names suggest, this is a psychiatric diagnosis associated with anxiety, depression, and stress. Although it may be seen in both males and females, it is mostly commonly seen in young adult females. Western medicine offers no specific treatment for this condition after ruling out chronic laryngitis, postnasal drip, polyps on the vocal cords, etc. Chinese medicine, on the other hand, has long recognized this disease category and does offer specific treatment for it. An example of the acupuncture treatment of this condition is an article titled, “A Report on the Treatment of 48 Cases of Plum Pit Qi By Acupuncturing the Point He Gu (LI 4).” This article was written by Hu Yan-jun from the Ling Tao County Chinese Medical Hospital in Gansu province and originally appeared in issue #2, 2003 of Gan Su Zhong Yi (Gansu Chinese Medicine) on pages 38-39 of that journal. This article is interesting not just because it addresses plum pit qi but also because it uses only a single acupoint needled unilaterally. A summary of this study is given below.

Cohort description:

There were 48 patients in this study, 42 females abd six males 13-50 years of age, with an average age of 24 years. These patients were peasants, students, cadres, and office workers. Thirty-seven cases had had plum pit qi for less than two months, nine had had it from 3-11 months, and two had had it for more than one year. Thirty-one cases had previously been prescribed Valium, a multi-vitamin, and Chinese medicinals. Seventeen patients were being seen for the first time.

Treatment method:

After disinfecting the skin, a 0.5-1.5 inch needle was inserted into He Gu (LI 4) on one side of the body. The needle was then twisted and turned to cause a tight feeling under it. Patient’s subjectively experienced soreness, heaviness, tingling, distention, heat, coolness, or formication which radiated up the upper extremity. Patients were then asked to drink a little cool boiled water which they were instructed to swallow. Even supplementing-even draining hand technique was used in order to propagate a strong qi sensation. The needles were then left in place for 20 minutes before being removed. The second day, the point on the opposite side was needled and treated the same as described above. A typical course of treatment was three treatments. If the case was more serious, it may have required seven treatments.

Treatment outcomes:

Cure was defined as disappearance of the feeling of constriction and blockage in the throat after 1-3 treatments with no recurrence on follow-up after a half month. Improvement was defined as decrease in feelings of blockage and constriction in the throat after 4-7 treatments or disappearance after one week with no recurrence. No effect meant that, after one week of the foregoing acupuncture treatments, the blockage and constriction in the throat was the same as before. Based on these criteria, 36 out of 48 patients were considered cured, 10 improved, and two got no effect. this means that the cure rate was 75% and the total effectiveness rate was 95.8%.


According to Dr. Hu, this condition should mainly be treated by the principles of moving the qi and opening depression, transforming phlegm and scattering nodulation or binding. This is based on the unstated assumption that the main disease mechanisms at work in this condition are liver depression qi stagnation and phlegm nodulation. Dr. Hu has picked the point He Gu as the basis of his protocol because it is the source point of the hand yang ming large intestine channel which traverses the affected area and is the master point for all disorders of the head. This point has the effects of freeing the flow of the channels and opening the orifices, clearing and draining the yang ming, dispelling wind and settling pain. Puncturing it, it is easy to obtain the qi and produce a strong qi sensation. In Dr. Hu’s 50 years of clinical experience, if there is no obvious sensation provoked by the needle, there is no effect. Therefore, Dr. Hu is a strong proponent of the saying:

If the qi arrives quickly, the effect will be quick.

If the qi is slow to arrive, there is no treatment.

Copyright © Blue Poppy Press, 2003. All rights reserved.