The idea that a physician might treat an intestinal disturbance by working on the patients elbow, may seem for those used to working in the Western medical model at best far fetched, at worst a form of quackery. However, if we examine the three main terms (Ti, Xing and Shen) used within ‘Traditional Chinese Medicine’ (TCM) to define the human body we will find a useful prism with which to better understand the TCM approach to health and wellbeing.
In traditional Chinese medicine the Western notion of the human body as a purely physical structure cannot convey the complex relationship between physiological and psychic bodies. Or to put it another way mind and matter.
Returning to the elbow the following narrative provides further insight into how TCM views health as an interconnected human process and not one restricted purely to the physical world.
For the traditional Chinese physician the elbow has both form and function. The form dictates the function. This function is both practical and psychosocial. On a practical physical level the elbow permits the upper limbs to accomplish actions which demand strength, precision and thought. There are some small differences between a woman’s elbow and a man’s; for example a woman is usually able to close her elbow 6 degrees more than a man’s. That is the reason why, when a woman walks, her arms seem closer to her hips than a mans.
On a psychosocial level the elbow and its ability to articulate certain movements enable us to express our relationship with the world: either by embracing it or repelling it, this last of which can be seen as an act of hostility. The position of our elbows can transmit sensuality, either by indicating a hug, or by creating a perimeter of distance from someone. Relationally the elbows play an essential communicative role in our physical and emotional wellbeing. Here it is perhaps worth adding that this role is not limited to the body it also connects us with the wider environment.
Our arms carry energetic channels, or meridians, which, not only control the use of our triceps and biceps, but which also link to the meridians of the large intestine. Japanese acupuncture experts confirm that, when there is pain in the elbow, it often relates to some form of intestinal disturbance which, as a result of the energy meridians, manifests itself, not just in the area of the gut, but also as pain in the shoulders, arms, forearms, wrists and hands. If we continually ignore our gut response to the environment we are in. If we do not give ourselves enough elbow room. Or too intent on elbowing others out of the way then the elbow no longer in alignment with its expressive nature informs our gut feeling and visa versa.