What Are TCM Meridians?

tcm meridians and acupuncture needles displayed on mannequin

If you’ve ever heard of Traditional Chinese Medicine, you’ve likely encountered the term “meridians.” But what are meridians, and what do they have to do with your health and well-being?


In this article, we’ll introduce you to the foundations of Traditional Chinese Medicine, describe what TCM meridians are and what they do, and explain why these meridians may be important for restoring balance and health to your body.


Let’s start by exploring the basics of the ancient healing tradition of Traditional Chinese Medicine.


What is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?

Traditional Chinese Medicine, often abbreviated to TCM, is an ancient healing practice. TCM has been practiced for thousands of years in China, but it is gaining more and more popularity in the Western world in modern times.1


TCM encompasses a variety of treatments aimed to restore balance and improve health in the body. These approaches center around the concept of a vital life force, or energy, called “qi.”


The concept of qi goes back more than 3,500 years, and it is the basis of TCM.2 According to TCM principles, your vital life force energy may get out of balance due to a variety of factors. For example, external factors (wind, cold, heat, and other environmental changes), internal forces (like emotions or stress), and lifestyle factors (like diet, sleep, and daily habits) can all disrupt your flow of energy.1 According to TCM, when that energy becomes blocked and out of balance, illness, pain, and disease occur. A primary goal of TCM is to clear any blockages and restore balance.


TCM practitioners may use a variety of modalities to assess health and treat disease. Some common TCM therapies include acupuncture, acupressure, Chinese herbs, cupping, diet, massage, and qigong. All of these are supposed to bring things back into balance and allow your energy to flow freely again.


What are TCM meridians?

tcm meridians displayed on mannequin

In TCM, meridians are the channels through which that vital energy (or qi) flows in the body. They form a network that connects all parts of the body—like an energy highway. The meridians run through more than 2,000 acupuncture points that connect the various parts of this highway.1 3 4 5


TCM meridians have been described as pathways that “form your body and all invisible aspects of your being into an intercommunicating whole.”6 Within TCM, bringing all aspects of your being (mind, body, and soul) into balance is key—and the meridians are a foundational piece of that.


The 12 principal meridians

Within Chinese medicine, there are 12 major organs. Each of these organs is connected to a principal meridian. The 12 principal meridians link to the following organs:

  • Lung
  • Spleen
  • Heart
  • Kidney
  • Pericardium
  • Liver
  • Large intestine
  • Small Intestine
  • Stomach
  • Bladder
  • Triple burner
  • Gallbladder1 7 8

Each of these major meridians exist in symmetrical pairs—with a channel running on each side of the body. In addition to these 12 principal meridians that form the major structures of the energy highway, there are also smaller meridians that run between the main ones and enhance the communication and function of the entire system.7


To visualize the meridians, you can imagine an intricate roadmap with several major highways that intersect and are connected by smaller roadways in between.


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Why are the TCM meridians important?

acupuncturists placing needle in client's back

According to the theories of TCM, your body remains healthy as long as energy flows freely through the meridians and does not become blocked. When the meridians get blocked or imbalanced, it affects the function of your body and internal organ systems. These blockages can result in pain, illness, and disease.4 5 6


Central to the practice of TCM is clearing blockages in the meridians and restoring balance so that the body can recover from disease and become healthy again.


That is where approaches like acupuncture, acupressure, and even massage can come in. With acupuncture, for example, thin metal needles are placed at specific acupuncture points along the meridians to improve energy flow and restore balance and health to the body. Other approaches may use pressure, suction, or even heat to achieve similar therapeutic effects.1 3 4 5


TCM practitioners will work with a unique combination of acupuncture points for specific conditions or health concerns. And oftentimes, they will combine various approaches and give you several different treatments to help you get back into balance.


For example, you may receive a few sets of acupuncture needles at targeted points along your affected meridians. In addition, you may get some cupping, herbs, and directions for how to do qigong movement exercises to promote positive energy flow.


Meridians in modern science

As mentioned above, the concept of TCM meridians dates back thousands of years. And these theories of health and disease have stood the test of time, with TCM practitioners still continuing to treat people for various health concerns using meridians and acupuncture points today.


But is there any modern, scientific research backing up these principles?

close up of microscope

With each passing year, scientists are beginning to learn more and more about meridians and how they might be represented physically in the body. Some researchers in the scientific community believe meridians are linked to the nervous system, for example.2 7


More recently, researchers discovered that the TCM meridians are linked to specific connective tissue structures in the body called fascia. They also found various parts of muscles, tendons, and ligaments to follow meridians in the body. The findings of their studies support the idea that the body’s network of fascia and connective tissue may be a physical representation of the “energy highway” network of TCM meridians.3


While there is growing evidence that meridians may be linked to physical structures in the body, it is important to understand that the concept of meridians goes far beyond the physical and what we can touch or see. Rather than just a structure that can be defined by conventional anatomy and physiology, meridians represent a process of energy flow and an energetic network that links both the visible and invisible aspects of our being.6 9


Improve health & wellness with TCM

TCM is an ancient system of healthcare that has a long history of use in China and now in Western countries as well. Many people look to TCM for help in managing their health concerns—whether that be headaches, digestive issues, chronic back pain, or insomnia.


At the root of these treatments is the network of meridians in the body, through which our vital life force energy flows. If you are trying to improve your health and well-being, you may benefit from restoring balance and energy flow within your TCM meridians.


If you are interested in exploring this option, consider seeking the help of a qualified TCM practitioner and experience the benefits of TCM for yourself!





About Chelsea Clark
Chelsea Clark is a writer and certified health and wellness coach who is passionate about supporting others along their own health journeys. She enjoys helping people make positive, lasting changes so that they can live the happiest, healthiest life possible.






1. “Traditional Chinese Medicine.” Regents of the University of Michigan Michigan. Uofmhealth.org.

2. Eigenschink, M., L. Dearing, et al. “A critical examination of the main premises of Traditional Chinese Medicine.” Wiener Klinische Wochenschrift 132, no. 9-10 (2020): 260–273.

3. Maurer, N., H. Nissel, M. Egerbacher, et al. “Anatomical Evidence of Acupuncture Meridians in the Human Extracellular Matrix: Results from a Macroscopic and Microscopic Interdisciplinary Multicentre Study on Human Corpses.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2019):

4. “Chinese meridian theory.” National Cancer Institute. Cancer.gov.

5. “Acupuncture.” The Johns Hopkins University. Hopkinsmedicine.org.

6. “Meridian Connection.” Traditional Chinese Medicine World Foundation. Tcmworld.com.

7. Longhurst, J.C. “Defining meridians: a modern basis of understanding.” J Acupuncture and Meridian Studies 3, no. 2 (2010): 67-74.

8. Wang, Y., M. Jafari, Y. Tang, & J. Tang. “Predicting Meridian in Chinese traditional medicine using machine learning approaches.” PLoS Computational Biology 15 no. 11 (2019): e1007249.

9. “The Chinese Medicine Meridian System.” Kootenay Columbia College of Integrative Health Sciences. Kootenaycolumbiacollege.com.


The information provided in this article is intended to improve, not replace, the direct relationship between the client (or site visitor) and healthcare professionals.

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