I have seen people in my clinic before complaining of a lump in their throat, but Alan’s symptoms were the most severe I had every encountered. Alan was a 42 year old realtor and father of three*. He came to me because he had the feeling of a lump in his throat, which was making it difficult for him to eat solid food. Every time he tried to eat, he was unable to get the food down past the lump. By the time he came to me, he was only able to drink liquids and was rapidly losing weight.
In my clinic, I see a number of people who are looking for relief from stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. Many of my patients who are struggling with their emotional health also report feeling something like a lump caught in their throat.
These patients describe this lump as the feeling of something being caught at the bottom of their throat, and it won’t go away no matter what they do. The lump can be mild, and mentioned only when I ask, or it can be so severe, like Alan’s, that it will limit a patient’s diet. For some people, certain foods seem to aggravate the feeling, among them meat, onions, acidic foods, and alcohol.
So what is this lump and where does it come from? In most cases, this lump sensation is a spasm of one of the muscles of the esophagus. It can physically be caused by a throat infection such as strep, being overweight or esophageal reflux. Difficulty swallowing can be the sign of more serious conditions, and should be checked out by your doctor if it lasts for more than a week or two.
In Chinese medicine, this lump is called Plum Pit Qi because it feels like a plum pit is caught in your throat. The Chinese believe that Plum Pit Qi is the result of a situation that is figuratively too hard to swallow, so it gets caught in your throat. That’s why all of the patients I have seen with this condition also are struggling with some kind of life stress or mental health issue.
Plum Pit Qi is a diagnosis that encompasses a Liver and Spleen disharmony combined with phlegm. A disharmony between the Chinese Liver and Spleen, in general, means that your energy is stagnating (usually emotional energy) and beginning to mess up your digestion. In Chinese medicine, phlegm can be both visible (what you see when you blow your nose or cough) and invisible. Invisible phlegm can be the result of energy stagnating combined with poor fluid metabolism, and is the cause of many lumps and bumps in your body. Things like goiters, tumors, and cysts can be considered invisible phlegm.
In the clinic, Plum Pit Qi can be successfully and naturally treated. I like to combine acupuncture with Chinese herbs for this condition. The formula Ban Xia Hou Po Tang is formulated specifically for Plum Pit Qi, is safe, and works incredibly well. Self care for Plum Pit Qi includes tracking the foods that aggravate your symptoms, and working on resolving stress, anxiety, and the situations in your life that are too difficult to swallow.
For more information on Qi stagnation, specific action steps for a Liver and Spleen disharmony, resolving phlegm, and foods for your particular body constitution, order Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health.
*Names and identifying details have been changed.