Note: To understand the term "Qi", thus to get a better grasp about the following pathology, we encourage our readers to review the short material "What is Qi" in the Vitality chapter.


In traditional Chinese medicine the Liver is the organ that governs the smooth flow of Qi throughout the whole person. To be in a good state of health – physically and emotionally - one needs to have a smooth, uninterrupted flow of Qi in both body and mind. When the  Qi flows continuously and in the proper direction the body organs function properly and the overall physical and psychological states are harmonious. If the Qi ceases to flow smoothly one becomes unbalanced on both mental and physical levels. Since the Liver governs the smooth flow of Qi when it stagnates the Liver becomes unbalanced. And vice versa - if the Liver is unbalanced - the Qi, which is controlled by the Liver, will stagnate. In both cases this diagnosis is called "Liver Qi stagnation".


Liver Qi Stagnation


There are three major causes for the Liver Qi to stagnate. One is improper diet. When too much rich and greasy food is eaten, and/or alcohol is excessively and consistently consumed, the Liver becomes swollen and sluggish and unable to maintain the smooth flow of energy throughout the body. Thus the Qi of the Liver becomes stagnated.

Another cause for the Liver Qi to stagnate is stress. Whenever we are under stress we tend to clench our fingers, hunch our shoulders, curl our body, etc. Our muscles are tense and our breathing is shallow. This indicates that the smooth flow of energy throughout our body is repressed and the Qi is stagnated.

The third and the most common reason for Liver Qi stagnation is chronic active or repressed anger, resentment or frustration.

To learn more about the liver and it's functions from the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine go to "The Liver in Chinese medicine" in the Physiology chapter.




Woman On Waterfall


In women stagnated Liver Qi manifests predominantly in hormonal imbalance. Stagnated Liver Qi weakens the movement of blood (the blood needs qi/energy to move) preventing the blood from properly reaching the uterus. This results in painful and/or irregular menstruation, excessive bleeding, purple or brown blood (i.e. stagnated blood), clots in the blood, etc. Another typical symptom of  "Liver Qi stagnation" in women is the premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Symptoms include mood change, irritability and/or sadness, tiredness, disturbed sleep, premenstrual tension, breast tenderness, etc. Since the Liver meridian passes by the breasts another common symptom of stagnated Liver Qi  is lumps in the breast. (1) One of the main causes of breast cancer in TCM is chronic Liver Qi stagnation.

As it flows upward the Liver meridian passes through the diaphragm, the hypochondriac region then ascends to the throat. Based on that Liver qi stagnation may manifest as fullness, discomfort and/or pain in the hypochondriac region (the area just below the rib cage) as well as a sensation of having a lump in the throat. Difficulty swallowing (stagnated Qi in the throat), hiccups (stagnated Qi in the diaphragm), and sighing (stagnated Qi in the chest) may present (1).

When the Liver becomes stagnated and overactive he turns into a bad neighbor and starts assulting other organs and systems. His biggest victim is the gastrointestinal tract, referred to as the Spleen in Chinese medicine. When the Liver "overacts" the Spleen symptoms include poor appetite, abdominal distention, epigastric pain, feeling of pulsation in the epigastrium, sour regurgitation, nausea, belching, diarrhea, sometimes vomiting (1)

In TCM blood and energy are interrelated and interdependent. It is said “Qi is the father of blood and blood is the mother of qi”. If the qi is stagnated the blood will stagnate as well. Thus prolonged and untreated stagnation of Liver energy will eventually lead to stagnation of blood. While the main symptom of stagnated energy is distention, the main symptom of stagnated blood is pain. The most common symptom of blood stasis is masses in the abdomen with fixed, sharp and stabbing pain. In women there is painful menstruation with dark and clotted blood. Purple nails, lips, and overall complexion additionally confirm that the blood lacks movement. In severe cases there might be nose bleeding or vomiting of blood. (1)

Because of the above mentioned relationship between Qi and blood a long term stagnation of Liver Qi will lead to cold hands and feet as the blood circulation will not be flowing smoothly.

On emotional level a stagnated Liver manifests in depression, melancholy, irritability, and abrupt mood changes.






The main strategy for “unblocking” stagnated Qi is movement. Movement in the form of exercise, yoga, and any Eastern practice or martial art, is essential for promoting the movement of Qi. Oxygen has a great moving and antistagnant quality therefore breathing exercises can be also of major assistance to start the energy flowing. A basic and simple breathing exercise from yoga can be used: a deep breath is slowly inhaled for four seconds then exhaled slowly for another four seconds. The seconds can be tapped with the hand while inhaling and exhaling in order to keep better count. One can start with one minute of deep breathing every morning after waking up and do it again in the evening before going to bed (and also whenever desired!). By doing this exercise twice a day the body energy will start flowing smoothly again and one will feel lighter, calmer, and happier. Certainly if there is dizziness one should discontinue and start again later.

Another way to move stagnant energy is to eat foods with moving quality. If you want to read the rest of the article and learn the foods and acupressure points that are healing for this condition (as well as watch the instructional acupressure point location videos) you can do so by subscribing to the Customized options of this project. To learn the other benefits you will get as a subscriber click here.


(1) Maciocia, Giovanni (1989). The Foundations of Chinese Medicine. Nanjing: Harcourt Publishers Limited

(2) Pitchford, Paul (2002). Healing with Whole Foods. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books


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