Do any of your patients suffer from “funny” abdominal pain? This month I want to discuss an often-overlooked part of our anatomy—the umbilicus—and its potential importance in clinical medicine. Some of its properties are surprising, at least to me, and can be keys to an otherwise unexplainable pain syndrome.
Contemplating the navel
The umbilicus—OK, the “belly button”—is receiving more attention than ever before. Navel rings seem to be a fashion statement by a whole generation of young women. And in some circles, the navel is not just a belly button; it is an “inny” or an “outy.” One is supposed to be prettier than the other, but I forget which one.
My interest in the umbilicus is not entirely an idle one. This funny little scar is not just a reminder of an early stage of our lives. It is also energetically important and can be the source of an unusual abdominal pain syndrome—more about that later.
Beyond skin deep: The navel is an energy portal
In Oriental medicine, the umbilicus is considered one of the major energy portals into the body. The middle of the umbilicus is an important acupuncture point (Conception Vessel 8) and is considered a “forbidden point,” i.e., it should not be treated with a needle. There is also a school of acupuncture that uses a set of points around the umbilicus, much as ear acupuncturists use points in the external ear.
In autonomic response testing (See chapter 4 of my book, Neural Therapy: Applied Neurophysiology and Other Topics) the sensitivity of the umbilicus to energy emitted from the palm of the hand is used to test the general responsiveness of the whole autonomic nervous system. Placing the palm of the open hand slightly above the umbilicus should, in a healthy person, trigger an autonomic response (a weakening of an indicator muscle).
Western medicine has shown little interest in the umbilicus, perhaps because it is considered a vestigial organ. Like the appendix, the umbilicus can cause problems under certain circumstances. But unlike the appendix, which can be a source of serious disease, the problems caused by the umbilicus are subtle and probably hardly ever diagnosed (outside of neural therapy circles).
The umbilicus can harbor an interference field
In my practice, I find perhaps two or three cases a year of an interference field in the umbilicus. The patient is nearly always female and has had many years of intermittent abdominal pain. The pain is usually crampy, diffuse and difficult to describe. In some cases, it is accompanied by nausea or diarrhea. Most patients with this condition have had extensive investigations, sometimes beginning in childhood.
Very little is found on physical examination. However, there is one characteristic finding that seems always to be present. When the examining hand approaches the umbilicus, the patient will register a peculiar apprehension and will often try to push the hand away. The reaction is similar to that of extreme ticklishness, but the feeling is not that of a tickle. The patient has trouble explaining why the umbilicus feels so vulnerable and may even be embarrassed by her own behavior.
Autonomic response testing will confirm that the umbilicus is an interference field. Treatment is injection of procaine into the skin surrounding the umbilicus. It is not necessary to infiltrate deep into the umbilicus.
Response is the same as that from treatment of any other interference field. Relief of pain may last a day, a week, a month or even longer. Repeat treatments are increasingly effective and eventually the pain relief is permanent.
I have seen one case of acquired interference field at the umbilicus in an elderly man with ascites. Presumably the increased abdominal pressure caused mechanical stress at the umbilicus. Backache resulted, and treatment of the interference field relieved the backache. However, a permanent response did not occur until the ascites was treated and the pressure on the umbilicus was relieved.