Chinese medicine, also called Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or oriental medicine in US, is a range of traditional medical practices used in China, which had been developed during more than 3000 years. It has become a comprehensive health care system to diagnose, treat, and prevent diseases, as well as improve well-being in China.
Chinese medicine focuses on the integrity of human body and the close relationship with its social and natural environments. Chinese medicine considers a human body as a whole and emphasizes on improving the inter-connections among systems and organs and enhancing itself resistance to diseases. Its theory is based on a number of philosophical frameworks such as the theory of Yin and Yang, Five Elements, Meridian system, and Zang Fu. Overall, Chinese medicine considers health as a balance of yin and yang (negative force-positive force) and qi modulates this balance. The qi is described as body natural energy, which travels throughout our entire body via some specific pathways called meridians to reach every aspect of our body. All the procedures of Chinese medicine are intended to improve the flow of qi.
To reach the goal, Chinese medicine uses different approaches, such as natural methods (herbs, acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping, Tui Na and reflexology) and mind-spiritual methods (such as qigong and taiji). These methods are characterized by fewer side effects since they are natural. Depending on each individual’s problems, Chinese medicine doctor applies a specific treatment plan, which may involve a single manipulation or combinations of several therapies.
Chinese herbal medicine is the fundamental of Chinese medicine. There are about 300 commonly used raw herbs, which are classified according to three methods:
- Four Natures: according to the degree of yin and yang, the herbs are grouped into cold (extreme yin), cool, neutral to warm, and hot (extreme yang).
- Five Tastes: according to the taste, the herbs are grouped into pungent, sweet, sour, bitter, and salty, each of which has its specific function and character. Pungent herbs are used to generate sweat and vitalize qi and blood. Sweet herbs tonify or harmonize the body systems. Sour ones are astringent and consolidated, while bitters dispel heat, purge the bowels, and get rids of dampness. Salty herbs soften hard mass, as well as purge and open the bowels.
- Meridians: different herbs work on different meridians. For instance, menthol is considered pungent and cool, which works through the meridians of lung and liver.
There are numerous famous formulas in Chinese herbal medicine that have been used for generations for common illnesses. They are pre-made in several forms such as fine power, capsule, pellet and tablet, as well as tinctures that are concentrated liquid extracts of herbs. Taking herbs in those forms is more practical and convenient. However, they are pre-formulated based on the common problems. If a person’s problem does not fit the specific indication, the practitioner should prescribe a specific formula according to the person’s state of yin and yang and the elements that govern the affected organs. Remember that a key to success in Chinese medicine is to treat each patient as an individual. This procedure requires great experience and knowledge, which makes huge difference to the patient’s outcome. Unlike western medicine, the balance and interaction of all the ingredients are considered more important than the effect of individual ingredients.
Acupuncture is one of the essential elements in Chinese medicine. There are 14 major and numerous minor meridians, along which qi flows through. Each meridian passes through and is responsible for a specific internal organ. When qi flows freely within the body and yin and yang are in harmony, a person is healthy. When a person is sick or injured, there is an obstruction of qi along one or more meridians. By inserting needles at particular points on the meridians, acupuncture unblocks qi, therefore, balancing yin and yang in the body. To the practitioners, these meridians provide access to the internal organs. Some 500 specific points (called acupoints) are identified on major meridians of human body, where needles can be inserted.
According to a National Institutes of Health (NIH) consensus panel of scientists, researchers, and practitioners who convened in November 1997, acupuncture is an effective treatment for a variety of symptoms and diseases such as nausea caused by surgical anesthesia and cancer-related treatments and dental pain after surgery. The panel also found that acupuncture is useful by itself or combined with conventional therapies to treat addiction, headaches, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, lower back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and asthma, and to assist in stroke rehabilitation as well.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes over 250 illness successfully treated by acupuncture and the number continues to grow. The followings are part of them:
Conditions Appropriate for Acupuncture Therapy
Blood pressure regulation
Immune system support Stress reduction
|Source: World Health Organization|
Moxibustion is one of the modalities in Chinese medicine. Moxibustion stimulates the acupoints to adjust or realign qi stagnated at the prescribed acupoints, restoring normal flow of qi to the areas where the pain or illness was originating from.
Moxibustion is the method of burning some herbs on, around, or above acupoints. Many different types of herbs can be used according to individual patient’s symptoms.
Cupping warms up qi and promotes the free flow of qi and blood in the meridians, therefore, dispelling coldness and dampness and diminishing swellings and pains. Cupping is also useful to strengthen immune system.
Cupping therapy often follows the pattern of point selection that is used for standard acupuncture therapy. During cupping therapy, the practitioner creates a vacuum in a cup by a fire and applies the cup onto selected point of the body, which then draws the skin up into the cup.
Tui Na, also called therapeutic massage is one of the essential foundations in Chinese medicine. It is now being popularized in US as a powerful therapeutic extension of traditional western massage.
Tui Na uses the theory of Chinese medicine (such as meridians and qi) as its basic therapeutic orientation. Tui Na has a variety of different systems that emphasize particular aspects of these therapeutic principles, such as rolling, gliding, kneading, percussion, friction, pulling, rotation, rocking, vibration and shaking by using fingers, thumb, knuckles, palm and elbow. For example, rolling is used for joint injuries and muscle sprains, while one-finger pushing to the acupoint for internal diseases. Topical administration of herbal poultices, compresses, liniments and salves are also used to enhance the results of Tui Na.
Tui Na seeks to establish a more harmonious qi through the system of meridians, allowing the body to naturally heal itself. One of Tui Na’s advantages over simple massage is its ability to focus on specific problems, especially acute or chronic pain associated with the muscles, joints and skeletal system. It is especially effective for joint pain such as arthritis, sciatica, muscle spasms, and pain in the back, neck, and shoulders. It also helps chronic conditions such as insomnia, constipation, and headaches. Tui Na is especially a wonderful way to relieve stress or tension and recover from a hard-working day or a tough workout.
Reflexology is a branch of Chinese medicine. It is based on the principle that there are reflexes on the ear, hand, and feet, which correspond to every part of the body. Reflexology involves the stimulation of specific reflex points on the ear, hand, and feet to regulate the flow of qi in specific organ of the body, thus, restoring the balance of yin and yang and maintaining wellbeing.
Reflexology was introduced into the United States in 1913 by William H. Fitzgerald, M.D. (1872-1942), who called it “zone therapy.” Today reflexology clinics can be found all around the world. Reflexology has been used to treat a full range of conditions including back pain, sports injuries, migraines, arthritis, infertility, digestive disorders, hormonal imbalances, and sleep disorders, as well as to maintain and improve well-being. It is particularly helpful for stress-related conditions.
A reflexology treatment typically lasts for about an hour. Practitioners use their hands, especially the thumbs, to apply pressure to the specific point on the ear, hand, and feet of the patients.