Liver – TCM

The Liver in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) is responsible for (1) ensuring the smooth flow of Qi and (2) storing and releasing blood. If the Liver Qi is good, the blood vessels will be free flowing and the Qi of the body moves easily, our emotions are balanced, our mind harmonious and our body supple.

1. Ensuring the smooth flow of Qi

If the qi is slow in moving around the body, the flow of blood will also be affected and thus we may find blockages or poor flow of blood.

Liver qi moves in all directions, unlike most of the other organs whose qi generally moves up or down. The liver is closely related to the emotions and in highly emotional times, the liver can suffer. Stagnant liver qi can cause depression or sadness. Overactive liver qi can cause insomnia and dizziness.

Being of the element wood, Liver Qi likes to move upwards, straight up like a tree. If it is impaired, food can become stagnant in the stomach resulting in symptoms such as nausea and vomiting.

2. Storing Blood

The Liver in TCM stores blood when the body does not require it and releases it according to the needs of the body. When at rest, blood will flow back to the liver and when the body moves, it is released by the liver into the organs, muscles and sinews. When this function is impaired and the liver cannot store blood, symptoms such as vertigo, cramping muscles and tendons, scanty menstruation and / or amenorrhea and rigid limbs will manifest.

According to the The Great Compendium of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, when we close our eyes and fall asleep, the blood returns to the liver to be rejuvenated.

In women, the volume of blood stored in the liver will affect menstruation – poor liver functioning will cause scanty menstruation. Stagnant liver qi will cause painful or cramping menstruation while excess blood in the liver will result in heavy or long menstruation. Due to its role in blood storage and movement, the liver is important to the wellbeing of women.

The Neijing states, “In females, the ability to conceive arrives at the age of 14; at this point, the conception vessel will be open, the penetrating vessel will be exuberant, and therefore menstruation arrives in regular intervals and pregnancy becomes possible…At the age of 49, the conception vessel becomes deficient, the penetrating vessel is exhausted, the ability to conceive (tiangui) dries up, and menstruation stops; aging is taking place and there will be no more pregnancies.”

The Liver in TCM governs the tendons and when there is problems with liver qi, the tendons will be weak resulting in poor ability in movement and numbness in the limbs. Strong liver blood will show in strong, healthy nails. In diagnosis of liver problems, check the nails for dryness (brittle, cracked, pale or thin nails) to indicate insufficient blood in the liver.

The liver opens into the eyes and bright eyes, full of life and vitality reflect a strong liver qi. Deficient liver qi can result in blurred vision and over time, problems with the eye develop. Dry eyes or irritated eyes can be traced back to fire in the liver.

Our etheral soul is housed by the liver in TCM. The ethereal (spiritual) soul is  closest to the western concept of soul and it gives our lives purpose and meaning. The lungs are responsible for storing the corporeal soul. When we ‘die’, the ethereal soul leaves the body and continues the journey.

The Liver stores blood and also commands the ‘ministerial fire’ – when in good health, this fire is warm but not hot. A healthy liver helps the Spleen qi ascend and the stomach qi descend.

Properties of Liver in TCM

Element: Wood

Body part:  Opens into the eyes / nails

Paired with: Gallbladder.

Yin or Yang: Liver is a Yin organ.

Time: Liver qi most active between 1-3am.

Season; Spring

Taste: Sour.

Important Points to know of Liver

Jing Well: LV1 (wood)
Ying Spring: LV2 (fire)
Shu Stream: LV3 (earth)
Jing River: LV4 (metal)
He Sea: LV8 (water)
Front Mu: LV14
Rear Shu: BL18
Luo Connecting: LV5
Xi-Cleft: LV6
Cardinal Points: LV2 – Lymphatics , LV3 – Nervous System

Illustration showing the liver channel of leg - from Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust.
Illustration showing the liver channel of leg – from Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust.

Point Locations of Liver in TCM

LV1 – On the lateral side of the big toe, just below the corner of the nail. Jing Well point. Loss of consciousness. Moves Qi in the genital area. Inappropriate emotions.

LV 2 – At the meeting of the first and second toes, at the junction of the red and white skin. Clears Liver fire and symptoms such as irritatability, red face, red eyes, tongue. Burning urination (clears heat).

LV 3 – On the dorsum of the foot, at the bottom (i.e. distal to) of the depression between the first and second metatarsal bones. Good for balancing all Liver pathologies. Resolves stagnation, tonifies Yin. Use or headaches, dizziness, eye problems, calming anger. Combined with LI 4, can powerfully affect Qi and blood in the body (four gates treatment).

LV 4 – Anterior to the internal mlleolus, in the depression on the medial side of the tendon of the tibialis anterior. Medial pain, ankle pain, moves stagnation and clears heat.

LV 5 – 5 cun above the internal malleolus, just off the edge of the tibia. Any genital problems especially those related to damp heat.

LV 6 – 7 cun above the internal malleolus, on the internal border of the tibia. Pain along the meridian, genital region or medial side of the knee.

LV 7 – Posterior and inferior to the internal condyle of the tibia, 1 cun behind SP 9. Use for local issues.

LV 8 – At the internal end of the transverse popliteal crease, posterior to the internal condyle of the femur, on the internal border. Find with the knee flexed. Tonify Liver Yin and blood. Most genital issues especially those related to damp heat. Tonify yin from mental strain, stress and emotional issues. Knee problems.

LV 9 – 4 cun above the internal condyle of the tibia. Local point.

LV 10 – On the internal face of the thigh along the abductor, 3 cun under ST 30, on a par with the edge of the public symphysis. Local point.

LV 11 – 2 cun under ST 30, on the edge of the public symphysis, along the abductor longus. Local point. Moxa at this point may be helpful for fertility problems in women.

LV 12 – In line with the edge of the pubic symphysis, 2.5 cun from the median line. Pain in the groin area, local point.

LV 13 – At the anterior end of the 11th rib. If LV invading spleen, can be used for SP deficient symptoms. Tonifies all zang organs.

LV 14 – 4 cun from the midline, below the nipple, in the sixth intercostal space. Good for middle and upper warmers. Use for cough, chest and rib pain. Emotional problems especially anger, irritability. LV/Blood stagnation.