A Traditional Chinese Medicine spin on back pain, considering Shu points

All medical and allied health fields treat back pain. This common ailment is alleviated with hands on physiotherapy, acupuncture, medication, massage and manual therapy. Other long term success options are diet changes, smoking cessation, activity or ergonomic modification and exercise.

For the temporary alleviation of symptoms practitioners often feel and modify the position, movement and tension of the vertebrae and associated muscles along the spine. Chinese medicine has attributed many of these areas as influential points for systemic problems as well. These are called the back shu points. They are located 1.5 of the patient’s thumb width from the center of the spine at the level of the space below the vertebra mentioned. This is below the level of the wing of the vertebra that the manual therapist palpates to determine spinal joint movement abnormalities.  The therapist, with anatomical awareness, can calculate the shu point to the appropriate spinal joint dysfunction.

I find this is a great introduction to talking to the patient about other medical issues that can influence back pain, that may seem unrelated. If the patient discusses these other medical issues, it can draw the therapist into looking at remote areas of the spine that may otherwise be passed over in order to focus on the problem area.  This helps us see the problem in a more holistic way.  

Here are the Shu points of the spine:

At the level of the depression below the named vertebra:

T1 BL 11 Influential point for bone

T2 BL 12 Wind point

T3 BL 13 Shu point of Lung

T4 BL 14 Shu point of Pericardium

T5 BL 15 Shu point of the Heart

T6 BL 16 Shu point of the Governing Vessel

T7 BL 17 Shu point of the Diaphragm

T9 BL 18 Shu point of the Liver

T10 BL 19 Shu point of the Gallbladder

T11 BL 20 Shu point of the Spleen

T12 BL 21 Shu Point of the Stomach

L1 BL 22 Shu Point of the Triple Warmer

L2 BL 23 Shu Point of the Kidney

L3 BL 24 Shu point of the Dan Tian

L4 BL 25 Shu Point of the Large Intestine

L5 BL 26 Shu Point of the Gate of Origin

S1 BL 27 Shu Point of the Small Intestine

S2 BL 28 Shu Point of the Urinary Bladder

S3 BL 29 Transport point to the spine

If we look at the body with many interrelated frameworks we can best treat the whole person and have the best results possible.


Written by Stan Metcalfe, Physiotherapist