why are you doing that point_ST36_fullBy Sara Calabro

Welcome to the second installment of “Why Are You Doing That Point?” This ongoing series explains the locations and common uses of popular acupuncture points.

Last time we looked at Liver 3 and Large Intestine 4, two points that frequently come together in a combination called Four Gates.

This time we’ll look at Stomach 36.

Stomach 36—also known as Zusanli (Chinese name), Leg Three Mile (English translation) and ST36 (acupuncturist lingo)—is located on the shin. It’s found about a hand length below the patella, just outside the prominent tibia bone (see picture below). Having this point needled often produces a strong sensation that sometimes travels down the leg.

‘Stomach’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘digestion’

When curious patients inquire about this point and learn its name, they often assume it’s for digestive problems. Stomach 36 is indeed one of the most commonly used points for pretty much any digestive issue you can think of. For everything from constipation to diarrhea to heartburn to nausea to hiccups, Stomach 36 is a likely choice.

However, Stomach 36 is used for an extremely wide variety of ailments, many of which have nothing to do with what we traditionally think of as “stomach problems.”

Even more than as a digestive aid, Stomach 36 is known primarily for its ability to invigorate.

Feeling zapped of energy? Unusually tired? Your acupuncturist is most likely going to use Stomach 36. If Liver 3 is the go-to moving point, Stomach 36 is the go-to boosting point.

Clues can be found in the sea…

In acupuncture, each meridian has an assigned he-sea point. Stomach 36 is the he-sea point on the Stomach meridian, which is one way of understanding the point’s role as an energy booster.

The Chinese character known as he refers to “connecting” or “uniting.” All he-sea points are located near the knees and elbows. They are points of connection, where the more distal parts of the body (the extremities) start to merge with the inner core (the trunk and organs).

Stomach 36 draws energy into the body’s internal reservoir, the “sea.”

But if all he-sea points are connectors, what makes Stomach 36 so special?

…and in the earth

Without getting into too much detail, all meridians have an associated element—Fire, Earth, Metal, Water or Wood—and select points along those meridians also are associated with elements. These points are known as the transporting points. They are considered the meridian’s most powerful points. Acupuncturists use them over and over again.

All elements are important. Earth, however, plays a central role. It feeds the other elements. In one way or another, Earth influences and is influenced by all elements.

For this reason, Stomach, because its element is Earth, is critical to the functioning of all other systems. Furthermore, Stomach 36 is an Earth point. So Stomach 36 is what acupuncturists call Earth-on-Earth—an Earth point on an Earth meridian.

This makes Stomach 36 doubly valuable in its ability to produce systemic effects. More specifically, because Earth—in the same way we think of the earth—is the nourishing, life-giving element, Stomach 36 is loaded with vitalizing properties. It feeds the body.

The real question is, what can’t ST36 help?

Considering Stomach 36’s Earthiness, it makes sense that the point is used so broadly.

From an acupuncture perspective, so many ailments—particularly in the West, where we’ve mastered the art of overworking ourselves to the point of complete exhaustion—stem from an underlying deficiency. The answer to much of what plagues us is nourishment.

In addition to the digestive disorders mentioned above, Stomach 36 is commonly used to treat fatigue, dizziness, hypertension, tinnitus, depression, generalized pain, paralysis, chest fullness and palpitations, shortness of breath, chills and fever, urinary tract infections, and many other things.

We all need food.

Next up on “Why Are You Doing That Point?” is Governing Vessel 20. Read it now.

Photo by Sara Calabro; ST36 infographic from A Manual of Acupuncture

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