Setting the Mountain on Fire

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The Traditional Acupuncture Technique in Modern Clinical Practicing


Setting the Mountain on Fire (Called “ShaoShanHuo” in Chinese) is the most important reinforcing acupuncture technique for treating deficiency-cold diseases in ancient times, even though it still has remarkable effect in modern clinical practicing. Through certain special manipulating procedures on the needle, the technique of Setting the Mountain on Fire can produce warm sensation (Yang Qi) in related areas to reinforce the Yang of body and relieve the deficiency-cold symptoms rapidly. According to both historical documents and modern researches, Setting the Mountain on Fire as a technique with standardized procedures, has much better clinical result for treating deficiency-cold diseases than other acupuncture techniques those only use ordinary rotating or thrusting manipulation.

Brief History

The theory of Setting the Mountain on Fire was started about two thousand years ago (B.C. 403-B.C. 221) from Chinese classic medical textbook—– “Nei Jing” ( “The Yellow Emperor’s Classic Internal Medicine” ). It says: “To reinforce deficient symptom, should have warm sensation under the needle. It can get warm sensation only when the Qi is strong enough…” Although “Nei Jing” did not mention the name and the manipulating detail of Setting the Mountain on Fire, but the concept of producing warm sensation to reinforce deficient symptom is just the basis of Setting the Mountain on Fire.

Ming dynasty (1368-1644) is the flourishing time of acupuncture. The famous acupuncture work “Golden Needle Poem” ( “Jin Zhen Fu” ) gave the name of Setting the Mountain on Fire at the first time. In other famous works (such as “Zhen Jiu Da Cheng” and “Zhen Jiu Ju Ying”) also described the manipulation and clinical result of Setting the Mountain on Fire in detail. During that time, Setting the Mountain on Fire had been commonly used in clinic. However, many advanced acupuncture techniques were considered as secret of apprenticeship in old China. This hindered the development of Chinese acupuncture. Some of the techniques almost failed to hand down to the next generation because the conservative tradition, including Setting the Mountain on Fire. Furthermore, modern acupuncture doctors always focus on integrating acupuncture into conventional western medicine. They rarely try to use this technique, since it is too difficult to explain by western medical standards how the needle can produce heat on human body without any chemical. Although today’s acupuncture students read the documents about Setting the Mountain on Fire, watch the video about Setting the Mountain on Fire, but they hardly practice or even see its procedure nowadays. Setting the Mountain on Fire becomes only an idle theory in our acupuncture textbook, therefore, less and less patients know its effect, less and less doctors use it in clinical practicing.

The advantage in Clinical Experience

Since 1998, we have treated more than 200 patients who suffered from deficiency-cold diseases with the technique of Setting the Mountain on Fire. Among these cases, about 70% patients felt the warm sensation during the manipulating process. However, there are more than 20% patients did not feel the warm sensation, but most of them still received the similar treating effect through remaining needle for 20-40 minutes. According to the historical documentation of acupuncture and these clinical experiences, we believe that Setting the Mountain on Fire has great significance to improve the treating result and standardize acupuncture practice. Below is the detail discussion with our clinical cases:

  1.  Setting the Mountain on Fire can improve the treating effect of diseases caused by deficiency-cold. For treating deficiency-cold diseases, if the ordinary rotating and thrusting manipulation cannot receive good result, Setting the Mountain on Fire should be concerned. As we know, the treating result is the most important factor, no matter for conventional western medicine or Traditional Chinese Medicine. Although acupuncture has taken an accepted position worldwide because of its good clinical effect, but it could take more important place if the clinical effect could be better.

    Case one: Peripheral Shoulder Arthritis

    Male, 56 years old first visit in Oct. 1998

    This patient is a quite strong man. He suffered from shoulder pain over two years. The pain also radiated to the upper arm and elbow. The movement of his shoulder was limited. His shoulder was sensitive to coldness and the arm felt numb. This disease is caused by wind-cold, and the pain is along the Triple Energizer (San Jiao) meridian and Small Intestine meridian. We punctured two groups’ points alternately.

    Group A: TE 5, LI 14, and SI 9.

    Group B: LI 15, SI 3, and SI 11.

    After the first time ordinary acupuncture treatment, the patient felt the pain was relieved, but his shoulder was still cold and the arm was numb. Then we used the same method to treat him two more times, but the patient didn’t have much improvement. At the fourth time, we used warming needle with moxibustion on LI 15. The patient felt coldness was reduced, but the result was still not ideal. We tried to use Setting the Mountain on Fire on LI 14 and SI 11 at the fifth time treatment. During the manipulating, the patient felt the whole shoulder was very warm. We remained the needles in points for 10 more minutes. After taking out the needles, patient still felt the shoulder was warm, comfortable and stronger. For ensuring the treating result, we used Setting the Mountain on Fire again at the sixth time treatment for the patient. After that, all his symptoms were disappeared.

  2. Setting the Mountain on Fire achieves good treating result rapidly, so can shorten the treating process and reduce the cost of acupuncture treatment. Since we started practice in the U.S.A, we found out more than 40% of our patients would call first before they decide to do treatment to make sure the cost and treating times of acupuncture. Many insurance companies still do not cover or only cover a small part of acupuncture treatment in the U.S.A. That means patients must pay for themselves. If the effective acupuncture treatment could be shortened to a few times, then the total cost would be more acceptable. More and more patients would choose acupuncture with no doubt. Therefore, the position of acupuncture could be improved indirectly in mainstream medicine.

    Case two: Sciatica

    Male, 40 years old, first visit in Feb. 2002.

    Seven years ago, this patient sprained his waist by lifting heavy box. The x-ray shows that there are spurs on his L4 and L5 vertebras. The patient had received more than 80 times acupuncture treatments during the past 6 years with several different doctors, the pain could be relieved temporally every time after treatment. However, the problem had never been cured completely. His lumbar pain always recurred and recurred again.

    This patient had not gone to work for half month since the recurrence of serious pain when he came to us. The pain was on his right thigh and both sides of his waist. His pulse is wiry and thin; his tongue is purple with thin white coating. The lumbar muscle was atrophic; the area near UB40 had purple spots; and the points of DU4, UB31 felt tender under finger pressure. Patient’s condition would become worse after hard working or cold weather. The Chinese medical diagnosis for him is kidney-yang deficiency plus blood stasis.

    We chose the points of DU4, UB23 (Kidney Back Su), UB31 and UB40 to treat David’s problem. Among the points, we used Setting the Mountain on Fire on the Kidney Su, and bleeding method on the UB40 by three-edge needle. After three times treatments, he felt much better, but still felt sore on the lower back and could not stand or walk for long time. Then two more treatments were applied to him, only by Setting the Mountain on Fire on Kidney Su and GB34. These times, the patient felt the warm sensation was linked together from his knee to his lower back. After those treatments, he felt his energy was much better. His lumbar soreness was disappeared completely. We asked him to avoid doing hard working but instead with appropriate exercise. Since then, David’s problem has not recurred till now.

  3. Setting the Mountain on Fire is worthy for regulating the acupuncture treating procedures. Setting the Mountain on Fire has strict requirements for the inserting depth, the angle and manipulating times. In another word, the technique could regulate the stimulating amount on acu-points to standardize the acupuncture procedure. So it may give clearer view to patients and western doctors that what acupuncture will do on human’s body.

    Case three: Polyuria

    Female, 45 years old, first visit in Oct. 2001.

    The patient had frequent night urination (3 or 4 times per night) for six month. All the western medical examinations for her were normal. Her pulse (especially the kidney part) was deep and thin, while her tongue was pale with thin white coating, and the UB23 (Kidney Back Su) felt tender under finger pressure. The symptom of polyuria is caused by kidney Yang-Qi deficiency.

    When we used Setting the Mountain on Fire on her UB23 (Kidney Back Su), she felt the warm sensation spread from the lower back to the lower abdomen. In that night, she didn’t get up for urinating. At the second time treatment, the same method was applied on UB23 to consolidate the treating effect. Her problem of polyuria has not recurred.

    As a result of our research and experience, the technique of Setting the Mountain on Fire is significant to improve the position of acupuncture in mainstream medicine and integrate acupuncture into conventional western medicine though increase the effect, shorten the process, standardize the procedure and reduce the cost during acupuncture treatment. It is necessary to know this ancient technique intimately, not only for to be a satisfied acupuncture practitioner, but also for patients could get more benefits from a natural way to heal and save without paying high fees and taking the risk of operations or drugs. We believe that Setting the Mountain on Fire, this traditional acupuncture technique, would still bloom in modern clinical practicing.


The Manipulating Procedures of Setting the Mountain on Fire:

  • Divide the required depth of acu-point into three equal portions.
  • Insert the needle into the upper 1/3 (superficial portion; heaven portion), then thrust needle heavily with the thumb forward and lift slightly for nine times (only at the upper 1/3 portion).
  • Insert the needle into the middle 1/3 (medium portion; human portion), then thrust needle heavily with the thumb forward and lift slightly for another nine times (only at the middle 1/3 portion).
  • Insert the needle into the lower 1/3 (deep portion; earth portion), then thrust needle heavily with the thumb forward and lift slightly for nine times (only at the lower 1/3 portion).
  • Lift the needle from the lower 1/3 to upper 1/3 portion slightly.

After finishing the 5 steps above, one operation of Setting the Mountain on Fire has been done. If patient already has the warm sensation, remain the needle in the point for 10-15 minutes. If patient has no warm feeling, repeat the same operation for three times. Most patients would have warm sensation after three operations of Setting the Mountain on Fire. However, some patients would only feel strong Qi without warm feeling, but they still could get similar treating effect after remaining needle in the deep 1/3 portion for 20-40 minutes.

Precautions of Setting the Mountain on Fire:

  • The word “deep portion” is relative. It is compared with the superficial and middle portion, not the maximal depth of the point. For my opinion, one “cun” (30mm) depth is enough for manipulating Setting the Mountain on Fire in most cases.
  • During the whole operation of Setting the Mountain on Fire, both the thumb and the index finger should not leave the needle. Otherwise, the Qi will be lost.
  • To avoid over stimulating, three operations Setting the Mountain on Fire on one point are enough during one treatment.
  • The warm sensation could be felt on the local area, the meridian, or even the whole body. It depends on conditions of different patients.
  • It is better to use 30 or 32 Chinese gauge (thickness 0.30 or 0.25mm) acupuncture needles for doing Setting the Mountain on Fire.

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