Liver Qi Stagnation
Depression of Qi of Liver


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Liver Qi Stagnation is very common in both sexes, but probably slightly more so in women.This is such an important subject that we've actually got another page on Qi stagnation, which helps to explain even more how it causes other more serious conditions.

Symptoms include:

  • distension in the abdomen and
  • distending pain in the sides (the costal hypochondriac region)
  • a distending sensation in the chest (sometimes people say their chest feels ‘stuffy’)
  • ... and/or breasts eg before the periods
  • chest discomfort
  • belching
  • sighing
  • sensation of a foreign body - something ‘stuck’ - in the - throat
  • irregular menses

There is usually an emotional dimension too: a strong tendency to feel depressed with frequent sighing, self-doubt, crying and impatience, even outbreaks of temper.

Often bowel movements are uncomfortable or difficult, or there is pain in the bowels relieved by bowel movements. Pain tends to be tightening, drawing, pulling or it may move around from place to place.

Tongue: colour may be normal or red at the sides, with a thin coating

Pulse: wiry

The key symptom is this feeling of distension, of what some people call a ‘stuffy’ feeling, eg in the chest, and the emotional picture.

Mostly these sensations aren’t caused by any organic change in the liver organ itself but by emotional factors, the main one being anger or frustration. These cause dysfunction along the Liver acupuncture channel where the sensations are experienced.

By the way, when you have Stagnant Liver Qi, you may not realise it. You'll just be depressed, moody, angry or upset! (Others will eventually notice, however.)

Apart from taking some exercise to help improve your condition, don't try to treat yourself unless you really know what you're doing!

Penny Brohn (she who started the Bristol Cancer Help Centre) once remarked that 'sick people' take 'sick' decisions.

Bringing together what needs to be done is one of your Liver energy's functions. When your Liver Qi isn't flowing smoothly you'll tend to do the wrong thing.

Get someone else to treat you!

Other reasons for distension
Organic changes resembling Stagnant Liver qi can be caused by enlargement of the liver organ, hepatitis and cirrhosis...

Distension of the abdomen can also arise in many other conditions that include Stagnant Liver Qi as part of their symptom picture.

Just a few examples:

  • eating a diet too high in sugars or in foods that turn rapidly to sugar (high glycaemic foods) leads to excess lactic acid, which can produce distension along with many other problems
  • distension occurs from poor tone, over-eating and increase in ‘flab’ and fats in the abdomen
  • loss of vital fluids including blood can lead to flatulent bloating.


There are many more examples, but the distension related to Stagnant Liver Qi is usually dependent on emotional factors, so it comes and goes depending on emotional reactions.

Another pointer to it being Stagnant Liver Qi is that distension doesn’t always occur over the whole area of the abdomen but over parts of it, and palpating the distended area often makes the distension move elsewhere, like gas.

Stagnant Liver qi can affect other energy organs (the Chinese medical name for them is zang-fu) such as the Stomach, Spleen, Heart, Lungs, and other channels and organs, such as the oesophagus.

In practice (ie clinically) you don’t often get all these symptoms at the same time. For example, distending pains in the costal (side) and hypochondria and lower abdomen seldom coexist.

How do you get Liver Qi Stagnation?

The main cause is mental ‘irritation’.

This is a nice term covering many mental and emotional conditions, including anger, resentment, fear, frustration and melancholy. Being urged to do something when there isn't time for it is a classic for producing this syndrome - especially if you don't want to do it, or can't see why it should be done at all, either now, or by you.

One of the reasons Eastern philosophies emphasise the importance of a calm mind is to minimise the likelihood of Stagnant Liver Qi.

If Qi is flowing smoothly, then Liver Qi stagnation doesn’t occur. Any action or therapy which eases the flow of Liver Qi will ease Liver Qi stagnation. For example, taking exercise is often effective as it pushes Qi round the body, so it can’t stagnate.

Problems arise where circumstances prevent free motion of Qi. For example, if someone is criticised by other people but dare not speak up despite his anger, you have a recipe for Stagnant Liver qi.

Effects on other organs

Where Stagnant Liver Qi ' attacks' the Stomach, the descending function of the Stomach will be disrupted and so there may be not only the usual Liver Qi stagnation symptoms such as distension and a stuffy feeling in the chest, but also nausea, sighing or belching.

But if the chief pain is in the epigastrium and is better for belching, always suspect Liver Qi stagnation first.

If Liver qi stagnation ‘attacks’ your oesophagus, it will feel like a foreign object is stuck in your throat, blocking it. This is traditionally described as being like a stuck 'plum-stone', but you might feel it as the inability to swallow, or a tightness there.

A characteristic of Liver Qi stagnation is that, unless it has been around for a long time, the symptoms tend to go when the problem is solved or when you are not thinking about it.

It also eases when you are laughing, because laughing - assuming it is from something joyfully funny - moves your energy out of what is called your Wood phase and on into what is called your Fire phase. (I've explained this in my book on Qi Stagnation, below, but it's a big topic for this website and is not ready yet.)

Menstrual problems

When the Chong channel (sometimes called the Penetrating channel) is affected by this syndrome, you get irregular menses and abdominal pain. The Chong channel, one of the ‘extra-ordinary’ channels, is also called the ‘Sea of Blood’ and is intimately connected with the quantity, quality and flow of Blood.

You can read even more about how Liver Qi Stagnation, this most vital of the Liver functions, affects your life, here.

Syndromes of the Liver in Chinese Medicine

1. Liver Qi Stagnation (this page)

2. Liver Fire (‘flare-up of Fire in the Liver’)

3. Cold stagnation in the Liver channel

4. Stagnation of Liver Blood

5. Liver Wind (‘Stirring of Liver Wind by Heat’)

6. Damp-heat of Liver and Gall-Bladder

7. Liver Yin deficiency

8. Liver Yang rising

9. Liver Blood deficiency

Return from Liver Qi Stagnation to Liver Functions


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Jonathan Clogstoun-Willmott Books

Please note! 'Yin Deficiency' still remains to be re-edited for the Kindle edition. ('Western Astrology and Chinese Medicine' published 1986, was never available in a Kindle version.)

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Here are some of the books Jonathan has written:

Qi Stagnation - Signs of Stress

Yin Deficiency - Burnout and Exhaustion

Yang Deficiency - Get Your Fire Burning Again!

Yuck! Phlegm! How to Clear Your Phlegm ...

Western Astrology and Chinese Medicine



Published 1986 and, amazingly, still selling. Was apparently used back then by at least one acupuncture college to help students understand Chinese medicine!

No comments yet: just published. (Despite the lurid cover, it explains the five main types of phlegm and what works best for each type. I hope it's easy to read and will be much more useful than all the websites on the subject.)


3000 years of Chinese being stressed, and at last, here's a book showing how all that experience can help you!

By the author of this website, it explains in simple English how to use stress to improve and enhance your life.

For the Latest Reviews of 'Qi Stagnation', click here!

NB You can also order 'Qi Stagnation - Signs of Stress' from your bookseller.



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