Five Massage Points to Self-Treat Common Ailments
When I tell people that my clinic is in a small city on the coast of North Africa, a day’s drive from the start of the Sahara, imagination usually kicks in and I am asked if I treat patients with camel sores or heat stroke. In fact, the ailments I treat most here are not nearly as exotic and should sound surprisingly familiar—sore neck, backache, depression, weight loss, high blood pressure, exhaustion—pretty much the same things you would find in any city, anywhere in the world. It is tempting to picture people wrapped in flowing garments with a different language, culture, and religion as somehow profoundly different, but when the layers of clothes are peeled off one by one, the same vulnerable human beings lie underneath, with the same worries, preoccupations, and health imbalances.
The body is a wondrous thing. The more we learn about it, the more it becomes clear that we do not know much at all. We in the West have a comfortable collection of medical theories about how we think it works, which seem perfectly plausible; but if we then apply these beliefs to Oriental theories and treatments, such as acupuncture, things become problematic and they no longer make sense. The theory of micro-systems in Oriental medicine is a prime example: It is based upon the idea that individual parts of the body contain the same basic information as the body as a whole and that you can treat the body only by making changes to that one part.
A familiar example for most people was championed by an American doctor, William Fitzgerald. He developed a system known as zone therapy in the early 20th century, which later became known as reflexology. This system holds that the shape of the foot resembles the shape of the body, and that treatment on the foot will have an effect on the corresponding part of the body.
The ear is another ancient Oriental micro-system. There is a long and distinguished history of treatment on the ear dating from over two millennia ago, when a medical text called "The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine" recommended bleeding points on the ear in order to treat headaches and period pain. It was revived in the 1950s by a French neurologist named Paul Nogier, who mapped the ear in terms of treatment. In his and in subsequent Chinese maps, the ear can be seen quite literally as an upside-down curled-up fetus. Points on the body correspond with the represented “fetal position” of the body part on the ear.
There are other micro-systems, most notably on the hand, and many theories about how they work—usually connected with changes affected in the central nervous system or in the release of hormones—but these beliefs often do not fit in well with modern medical theory. This is partly because they predate it by a few thousand years and stem from a very different way of viewing the body and how it becomes ill.
Within Oriental medicine, these micro-systems are hugely valuable as sources of self-treatment for common ailments. They are so accessible to treat, and they also enable you to have a degree of control over the ailment and your body without any external intervention. In this day and age, in which medication is so freely prescribed in place of changes in diet, lifestyle, and exercise regimes, the more you can do for your own body, the better.
A very simple example of how a micro-system can affect your body may be understood by trying to touch your toes. Stand straight, arms at your sides, and bend at the waist, trying not to bend your knees. If you did not get close to your toes, do not be dismayed—half the US population can’t, either. Now try a little massage. Massage your ears, thumb at the back, index finger at the front. Go up and down each ear. Stretch it upwards, outwards, and downwards. After a few minutes, stop and try touching your toes again. You should notice a distinct difference in flexibility. This is because you indirectly relaxed the muscles involved in bending your body by massaging the ear.
In order to indirectly treat your own ailments effectively, you need to know what you are doing. The following section contains the techniques of self-treatment and some of the key points on the hand to treat a selection of common ailments.
A simple massage technique is to use your thumb to press while slightly rotating it in a circular motion. Make sure that the thumb stays on the designated point and that pressure is maintained. You can also press in a forward motion with your thumb and continually move along a line or muscle.
Note: Be careful not to massage or press on or around open wounds, growths, nodules, inflamed or infected skin, sites of recent surgery, or areas where a broken bone is suspected.
Common conditions and their treatment points and areas:
The metacarpal bone, which spans down the back of the hand below the middle finger, represents the spine and can be separated into three parts. The Cervical Zone is around the knuckle; the Thoracic Zone covers the middle area; and the Lumbar Zone is closer to the wrist. These areas can be massaged, especially if there is any soreness, to bring relief to a backache. Also, give some attention to the Kidney Point, which is at the crease of the distal joint on the palm side of the little finger.
Treatment for depression often includes trying to reduce tension in the muscles around the chest, so the Chest and Respiratory Zone, which covers the thenar eminence muscles at the base of the thumb (palm side), is a great place to massage. Follow the gap between the little and ring fingers down and imagine the line continuing into the hand, up to the thick crease that runs across your hand—commonly called the “heart line” in palm reading. This area is known as the “essence area” and is connected to the heart. Oriental medicine sees depression as a problem of both the heart and mind.
The Head Zone is on the palm side near where the middle finger joins the hand. It is a good place to start with a massage. Other points depend where the headache is. The point for the temples is on the back of the ring finger, slightly on the outside of the proximal finger joint; the spot for the back of the head is in the same position but on the little finger; pain in the top of the head and the forehead may be eased by targeting the middle and index fingers, respectively, both more on the thumb side of the finger.
High Blood Pressure
Massaging the tips of all the fingers can help with some of the symptoms of high blood pressure. Other places to massage include the middle area of the wrist joint (palm side), the "Head Zone," as described above for headaches, and the hypertension and dizziness areas, which cover the proximal finger bone of the middle finger (palm side).
Tiredness usually affects the whole body, so the areas to massage include many of the main organs in Oriental medicine. They include the heart, pericardium, large intestine, and lung areas on the distal finger bones of the little, ring, middle, and index fingers, respectively. Also try the essence area, as described under "Depression," above, and the digestive organ zone, which is on the palm of the hand, slightly on the thumb side of the lifeline crease as it heads down to the wrist.
Clive Witham is a licensed acupuncturist and runs an acupuncture clinic in a Spanish enclave in North Africa where he promotes Oriental ideas of healing and self-treatment. He has trained in the UK, China, Thailand and Japan, and is also a member of the British Acupuncture Council. This article is based on his new book, The Book of Oriental Medicine: A Complete Self-Treatment Guide (Findhorn Press).