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Plum pit syndrome: treating globus with acupuncture & herbs

close up of a woman holding her throat

Globus Pharyngeus is the name given to that pesky throat discomfort that has no visible cause, mostly regarded as a psychosomatic disease. Symptoms include:

  • choking sensation, difficulty swallowing

  • sensation of a lump in the throat

  • stress and anxiety

Patients often describe it as having a plum stone stuck in the back of the throat, but when doctors look, there is nothing there. Hence the Chinese medicine name "plum pit Qi" or "plum pit syndrome".

Globus or acid reflux?

Symptoms of globus

Globus Pharyngeus refers to the feeling of a lump in the throat. Some people describe this as a ‘tightness’ in the throat which is commonly felt when swallowing saliva. This is usually not associated with sore throat. They don’t experience any difficulty in swallowing food, in fact some people find that the globus symptoms are better while eating and drinking. This globus sensation is usually felt in the front of the neck and it can move up and down or sideways.

Globus is associated with acid reflux

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that many patients with globus also have acid reflux and that there is a true association between acid reflux and globus.

The reflux of acid from the stomach causes irritation of throat which is felt as ‘a lumpiness’. The acid also causes an increase in tone at the upper oesophageal sphincter (UES) which results in an abnormal sensation in the throat (cricopharyngeal spasm).

Globus is also essentially emotional

anxious looking woman with her eyes closed

96% of patients with globus symptoms report exacerbations during periods of "high emotional intensity" (Lee et al. 2012)

Chinese medicine perspective

A blockage of Qi

Plum pit syndrome is usually a manifestation of Liver qi stagnation. More specifically, Qi and "phlegm" become knotted in the throat. ​In Chinese medical texts, this sensation was first recorded in Shang Han Za Bing Lun written by the famous Chinese medical doctor Zhang Zhongjing ( 150 - 219 AD).

Other signs besides throat discomfort include

  • Distention and pain in the sides or flanks

  • Suffocating sensation in the chest

  • Nausea/vomiting

  • Tendency to sigh

  • Melancholy, Depression, Irritability

  • Inappropriate anger

  • Irregular menses or Dysmenorrhea

  • Breast distention and pain before and during menses

A classic herbal formula

Dr. Zhang stated in the text: "A woman who feels as if a piece of broiled meat is stuck in her throat should take Banxia Houpo Tang."

old woman looking like she is choking and holding a hand in front of her throat

Banxia Houpo Tang is an herbal formula consisting of five herbs:

  • 半夏 pinellia

  • 厚朴hoelen

  • 茯苓 poria

  • 生姜 fresh ginger

  • 紫苏叶 perilla.

Formulas based on Banxia Houpo Tang have been used to treat globus sensation, swallowing difficulty, throat spasm and other conditions for 1,800 years in China.

Acupuncture: Anxiety reduction & Acid reflux control

Because acupuncture promotes energy flow and removes Qi (energy) stagnation, we can also treat Globus sensation with acupuncture. The World Health Organization officially recognizes the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating spasms of the esophagus, gastritis and gastric hyperacidity (acid reflux), which amount to treating globus.

Most of the time, patients report that the lumpy sensation disappears within a few minutes after the insertion of acupuncture needles.

Acupuncture also helps you target the root cause of globus, namely anxiety.

Alongside other modalities which we recommend to our patients, such as therapy, meditation or else, acupuncture is a proven partner in anxiety management.

Breathing techniques & stretches for easing the throat

Avoid clearing your throat

Avoid throat clearing as this habit causes more tightness in your throat, does not get rid of the lump sensation, and aggravates the edges of your vocal cords. If you feel that you have some mucus to clear from your throat, do not clear your throat,

Neck stretch sequence

  • Sit tall and let your shoulders and arms hang comfortably. Do not let your head poke forwards or loll backwards.

woman stretching her neck by dropping one ear to one shoulder
  • Lift your shoulders to your ears - hold them to the count of six then drop them. Repeat three times.

  • Look over your left shoulder, hold for 1 full breath, then look over your right shoulder and hold. Repeat this sequence three times.

  • Tilt your left ear down to your left shoulder, hold it for one full breath, thengo to the other side Repeat this sequence three times.

  • Drop your chin down onto your chest and very slowly and gently roll your head up to one shoulder in a quarter circle motion, open your mouth as you roll it all the way around to the other shoulder in a full circle, and slowly back down onto your chest. Hold this position for a few seconds, then slowly raise your head. Repeat this exercise going round in the other direction very slowly to not get dizzy.

  • Scrunch up every single muscle in your face and hands as tightly as you can - hold it for six seconds, then relax all at once.

Yawn !

Stretch the back of your throat by yawning. Do this as often as you can.

Lion's breath

Lion's breath is a type of pranayama that's said to alleviate stress, eliminate toxins, and stimulate your throat and upper chest. Lion's breath will feel silly;

  1. Inhale through your nose.

  2. Exhale strongly through the mouth, making a "ha" sound or a silent exhale soundAs you exhale, open your mouth wide and stick your tongue as far out as possible towards your chin.

  3. Try bringing your gaze and internal focus towards the center of your forehead or the tip of your nose as you exhale.

  4. Inhale, returning to a neutral face.

  5. Repeat 6 times

No matter where you are in your mental health journey,

if you need support, we can help.

In addition to our own team of specialized acupuncturists, we are well-connected within the Los Angeles- Pasadena area community to help you

find the right integrative and holistic care for you.

On our website, you can learn more about our services, and book an appointment.

If you have more questions please call our front desk, at 626-841-2991, or email us.


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