Modern research reveals the wisdom of ancient acupuncture wonders

Written by Chris Fehres | 25 June, 2020

Any acupuncturist will have a list of their favourite points for treating poor digestion and low energy. In truth, you could probably count on just one hand which ones they believe are the most effective. Included in this shortlist would undoubtedly be Stomach-36 (ST-36).

Its traditional name, zú sān lĭ translates to ‘leg three mile’, referring to its ability to enable a person to keep walking despite their level of exhaustion (Deadman & Al-Khafaji 2017, p. 159). Ma Dan-Yang, a great physician of the Jin dynasty (266 - 420 CE), claimed it as one of the most vital acupuncture points (Deadman & Al-Khafaji 2017, p. 158 - 159).

So why do acupuncture masters both ancient and modern stand behind this powerful point to promote perfect peristalsis? With what we know of human physiology today, what have we found that makes it so effective? The answer lies in a network of channels with mysterious properties, usually not seen by the naked eye. Meridians? Not exactly. It’s the nervous system. And among the complex network of nerves that find their way throughout the human body, one stands out among the rest: the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve (vagus ~ wanderer) is the 10th cranial nerve which leaves the brain and travels into the abdomen and is responsible for, among other things, the smooth operation of our digestion (p. 498 - 499).

ST-36 is located just below the knee on the outside of the leg (see image below). It sits directly over a distal branch of the sciatic nerve called the deep peroneal or fibular nerve (p. 445). Despite there being no apparent direct connection between ST-36 and the vagus nerve, researchers have mapped a definitive pathway from sciatic to vagus nerves via the adrenal glands (Valentine 2016, p. 18). Studies in rats have shown that electrical stimulation of ST-36 promotes gastric motility (Lu et al. 2019) and enhancement of gastric acid (Kavoussi & Ross 2006, p. 255). No such response occurred following removal of the vagus nerve (Kavoussi & Ross 2006, p. 255, Lu et al. 2019). In human trials, peristalsis was improved in patients with postoperative ileus (an intestinal dysfunction following some surgical procedures) (Kavoussi & Ross 2006, p. 254).


With evidence of contemporary research now finding ways to explain the intricacies of acupuncture mechanisms, we are finally beginning to gain clear insight into these ancient mysteries. So, next time you’re feeling a bit queasy in the stomach, try a few minutes of firm pressure on Stomach-36. It might just take the edge off until your next appointment with your registered acupuncturist.


Deadman P. & Al-Khafaji M. (2017). A Manual of Acupuncture. Journal of Chinese Medicine Publications: England.

Kavoussi. B. & Ross. B. (2006). The Neuroimmune Basis of Anti-inflammatory Acupuncture. INTEGRATIVE CANCER THERAPIES. Vol. 6. No. 3. pp. 251-257. Viewed 3 June 2020. Source.

Lu M., Yu Z., He Y., Yin Y. & Xu B. (2019). Electroacupuncture at ST36 modulates gastric motility via vagovagal and sympathetic reflexes in rats. World J Gastroenterol. Vol. 25. No. 19. pp. 2315-2326. Viewed 4 june 2020. Source.

Martini F. & Nath J. (2009). Fundamentals of Anatomy & Physiology. Pearson: San Francisco

Valentine. Z. (2016). The Effect of Acupuncture on the Vagus Nerve to Influence Systemic Inflammation. Yo San University: Los Angeles. Viewed 3 June 2020. Source.

Chris Fehres

Having completed his Bachelor of Health Science majoring in Acupuncture from Endeavour College of Natural Health in 2015, Chris graduated with distinction and was awarded the medal of academic excellence for highest achievement in acupuncture across Australia. He has participated as an alumni representative for the Course Advisory Committees for both Acupuncture and Bio-sciences departments, as well as having been chosen as the focus for Endeavour's 2017 - 18 Graduate Stories write-up. Going back to where it all began, he currently tutors for Clinical Examination at Endeavour College's Brisbane campus alongside some of the very lecturers that taught him.

Chris has always had a passion for the inner workings of the human body, directing his focus to the ongoing study of human anatomy and physiology and how these systems are influenced by acupuncture. While capable of treating a wide range of conditions with acupuncture, his passion is treating musculoskeletal injuries and conditions. Chris runs a boutique acupuncture clinic from his home in Sherwood, Brisbane called Acupuncture Sherwood.

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