What Is Traditional Chinese Medicine & Which Health Conditions Does It Work For?

Photo: Unsplash: qi bin
What Is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) & Which Health Conditions Does It Work For?

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM; simplified Chinese: 中医; traditional Chinese: 中醫; pinyin: Zhōngyī) is a modern version of Classical Chinese medicine (CCM), an ancient healing practice "that includes various forms of herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage (tui na), exercise (qigong), and dietary therapy.

This system originated in China thousands of years ago, and is still widely accepted as effective medical care and actively in use around the world to this day.

Though the earliest documents written on Chinese medicine date back to 150 BC, it should not be considered primitive or irrelevant to modern healthcare.

In fact, the opposite is true.

Chinese medicine is a sophisticated system that honors the wisdom and knowledge of a time when healthcare addressed the whole person — mind, body and spirit — emphasizing preventive practices and overall wellness, much like modern holistic therapies.

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Traditional Eastern medicine is still a common preference for medical care in China, and may or may not be combined with a Western medical approach.

Like Western medicine, TCM encompasses a broad range of practices, specialties, and diagnostic and treatment approaches.

Herbology is an integral part of TCM, in much the same way that pharmacology is an essential component of Western medicine — perhaps the most notable difference being that herbs are generally safe and taking them doesn't usually pose health risks.

How is TCM different from Western Medicine?

In TCM and all energy therapies, analysis of a problem begins with an understanding that life force energy, or Chi (also known as ch'i or qi), animates all aspects of a person’s health as it flows through the body's meridian system (simplified Chinese: 经络; traditional Chinese: 經絡; pinyin: jīngluò).

The root cause of most health issues is a Chi imbalance, and restoring balance to the body’s energy system is critical to restoring health and overall wellness.

Chronic Chi imbalances will eventually manifest as problems in the physical, emotional, mental or spiritual health of the individual.

Chinese medicine considers the body to be a self-regulating system. The role of medicine is therefore to support and promote the body’s own self-healing ability, as well as to restore an inherent state of balance, akin to the balance found in nature.

According to Liz Rawls, AP, RN, of Acupuncture in Tallahassee:

"Chinese Medicine looks at pain or disease in a refreshingly simple way. Every organ has a role and function, and imbalance can be identified by looking at the pattern of symptoms. This allows the Chinese Medicine practitioner to more easily understand what may need correcting in order to balance the body and alleviate the pain or discomfort. There is always a place to start even when Western Medicine has been unable to find a cause or cure."

Which health issues and conditions can be treated with Traditional Chinese medicine?

In the United States, an Acupuncture Physician or Diplomate of Oriental Medicine, treats the same physical maladies that you would see a Western medical doctor or specialist for — as well as for the same emotional or mental health related problems you would address with a Western psychologist or psychiatrist.

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To give you a sense of the range of health issues that can be treated with Chinese Medicine, here's a sampling from the comprehensive (and ever-growing) list of conditions deemed treatable with TCM by the World Health Organization.

  • Cardiovascular disorders
  • Neurological disorders
  • Musculoskeletal disorders
  • Respiratory system disorders
  • Disorders of the eye, ear, nose and mouth
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Gynecological disorders
  • Psychological disorders
  • Other Disorders, such as appetite suppression, and treatment of withdrawal from street and pharmacological drugs

Where do emotions come in?

One of the most fascinating aspects of the meridian energy system is the emotional significance of each meridian. Every major meridian governs certain areas of the body, certain functions of the body, and certain emotions.

Problems that would be labeled as psycho-somatic in Western medicine therefore take on new significance when viewed through the lens of TCM.

For example, an imbalance in the Kidney Meridian could manifest as a physical problem in the kidneys, or anywhere along the meridian line, or it may show up as infertility, ovarian problems, low libido or impotence. Meanwhile, on an emotional level, it can manifest as depression, paranoia, insecurity, lack of motivation or deep fear, among other things.

To go a step further, on a spiritual level, the Kidney Meridian is related to our sense of purpose in life, our drive to move forward, flow with changes and challenges, and to seek deeper meaning in our experiences.

Imbalances in your life force energy affect every area of your life and your overall wellness!

What happens at a TCM appointment?

Your Chinese medicine physician will assess the state of your meridian system and choose an appropriate combination of acupuncture points to work with in accordance with your overall constitution, symptoms and presentation.

Bringing the energy back into balance requires identifying the source of the imbalance, then manipulating the energy by using needles, moxibustion on the acupuncture points, and sometimes cupping to stimulate the flow of energy.

Depending on the practitioner and the approach, herbal supplements or teas may be suggested.

You can even go with a friend!

Community Acupuncture clinics are springing up everywhere, allowing people to receive treatments at a lower cost (they usually have a sliding scale), and share the session time with friends or family members. These clinics have been a common part of healthcare in China for years, and have recently become a popular trend in the United States.

Have no fear, it doesn’t hurt!

Most people find acupuncture treatments relaxing and not at all painful. However, if you have a fear of needles, there are other options.

Acupressure is a needle-free approach practiced by some TCM physicians, and Energy therapies such as Eden Energy Medicine, Jin Shin Jyutsu, and Touch for Health are all bodywork approaches that balance the energy of the meridians without the use of needles.

In addition, there are some very popular techniques in the field of Energy Psychology that also target the meridians while simultaneously working on cognitive shifts.

A few of these are Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), Matrix Reimprinting and Comprehensive Energy Psychology.

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Paige Apgar is an Eden Energy Medicine Advanced Practitioner and a Certified Transformational Life Coach who works with clients over Skype and in person to help them reclaim their vibrant, healthy glow and connect to their soul’s purpose. Find out more about her work with Energy Healing by visiting her website or contacting her via email.