Exploring the Significance of Acupoint He Gu (Large Intestine 4): Bridging Traditional Acupuncture and Modern Neuroscience

person putting needle on the hand of the patient
Photo by Antoni Shkraba on Pexels.com

I have begun reading a new text book, and I thought I would make a series of posts to highlight some interesting quotes:

An interesting neurologic fact is that the limbs below the elbows and knees occupy larger
areas in the sensory gyrus in the brain. Therefore the acupoints below the elbows and knees also occupy a larger area in the cortical representation in the postcentral sensory gyrus in the brain. This may explain why the acupoints below the elbows and knees contain more sensory receptors and why needling stimulation to these points may induce a greater reaction and activity in the brain. This principle clearly supports the concept of using certain acupoints below the elbows and knees (the so called five-Shu points in the classic meridian system) as diagnostic and treatment points during acupuncture treatment.

Yun-tao Ma, PhD
Director of International Biomedical Acupuncture Institute
Boulder, CO

Mila Ma, LicAc
International Biomedical Acupuncture Institute
Boulder, CO

Zang Hee Cho, PhD
Professor, Radiological Sciences
University of California, Irvine
Irvine, CA

One of the most well-known and frequently used acupoints is He Gu, also known as Large Intestine 4 (LI4). Beyond its traditional use in Chinese medicine, recent research has shed light on the fascinating connection between this acupoint and the intricate workings of the human brain. Here we will delve into the unique location of He Gu and explore how needling this acupoint can have a significant impact on both the peripheral and central nervous systems.

The Location of He Gu:
He Gu is located on the hand, specifically in the web between the thumb and index finger. Its precise location lies in the muscle known as the first dorsal interosseous muscle, which plays a crucial role in thumb adduction. This muscle has a disproportionately large representation in the somatosensory cortex, particularly in the region called the temporo parietal junction, which contains the sensory homunculus—an anatomical representation of the body.

This point is among the top most frequently used points in Chinese Medicine, and is considered part of the 4 gates point combination with Liver 3, Tai Chong, a point located in a homologous location in the foot.

The Thumb and Fine Motor Control:
The thumb is a remarkable digit that enables humans to perform intricate movements, such as manipulating fine tools and writing. The fine motor control associated with the thumb is attributed to the rich neural connections and precise coordination of the thumb muscles, including the first dorsal interosseous muscle. By needling He Gu, we directly stimulate this muscle, activating a cascade of neural responses that can have far-reaching effects.

Impact on the Peripheral and Central Nervous Systems:
Research has shown that needling He Gu can induce various physiological and neurochemical changes in the body. Stimulation of this acupoint activates peripheral nerve fibers, which in turn transmit signals to the spinal cord and brain. The release of endogenous opioids, such as endorphins, is triggered, leading to analgesic effects and modulation of pain perception. Furthermore, the activation of sensory nerves can stimulate local blood circulation and enhance tissue healing.

In the central nervous system, needling He Gu is believed to impact multiple brain regions, including those associated with pain processing, stress response, and emotional regulation. Studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have demonstrated alterations in brain activity following acupuncture at this acupoint. These findings suggest that needling He Gu can influence neural networks and promote a balanced state within the central nervous system.

In accordance with the quote above, we can understand why some acupoints are considered to have a stronger effect than others, based on anatomical location and neurological anatomy.

By MEpps

Offering acupuncture, massage, and herbal medicine at the L'Etoile, espace thérapeutique since 2004.