Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM for short is an umbrella name for all the different Chinese therapies which include Acupuncture, Chinese Herbs, Moxibustion, Cupping, Tuina (Chinese Massage), Medical Qi Qong and Tai Chi. When we talk about treatment using Chinese Medicine we are referring to one or two or more of the above therapies. If we are talking about someone receiving Chinese Medicine we are not meaning that they have just been given Chinese Herbs, but that they may have received one or more of the above therapies including or maybe not including herbs.
Traditional acupuncture is based on ancient Chinese theories of the flow of Qi (pronounced “chee”) and Xue (blood) through distinct meridians or pathways that cover the body somewhat like the nerves and blood vessels do. There is nothing more fundamental to Chinese medicine than understanding the concept of Qi. Qi has variously been translated as “vital energy” or “life force”; however, it is impossible to capture the concept fully in one English word or phrase. Qi has best been described by Ted Kaptchuk a well-respected Western practitioner of Chinese medicine as “matter on the verge of becoming energy, or energy at the point of materialising.”
Acupuncture is the insertion of fine sterile needles into the body at specific points shown to be effective in the treatment of specific health problems and diseases. These points are chosen according to the individual needs of the patient and which symptoms and sign that they present with at the clinic. The essence of Chinese medicine lies in the skill of the practitioner in modifying and fine tuning the treatment in order to match the characteristics and variations in a patient’s disharmony. Acupuncture points lie on the network of meridians and cover most of the body. Recently electromagnetic research has confirmed their location. In a healthy state energy or Qi flows freely through these meridians, but when a person has a disease or illness this energy flow becomes blocked or interrupted creating disharmony plus the resulting symptoms and signs of a particular disease. Acupuncture and herbs allow Qi to flow to areas where it is Deficient and away from where it is in Excess. In this way, they regulate and restore the harmonious energetic balance of the body thus eliminating the disease.
When I was studying in China there were great innovations taking place regarding researching new methods and ways to apply acupuncture, one of the things I frequently saw whilst working in the hospitals was the acupuncture doctors injecting the blood moving herb Dan Shen directly into the acupuncture points, this seemed to work really well in all sorts of problems but especially with stiffness and frozen shoulder. Dan Shen is a great herb, it’s mostly used in circulation problems, and it invigorates blood, removes stagnant blood from bruised tissue, opens the vessels, regulates the Qi in the blood and stops pain it’s also used to lower cholesterol. There are research centers of excellence in China entirely devoted to finding new methods and experimenting with Chinese medicine. Even though acupuncture is an ancient art it is still being developed and advanced.
Advocates of Western Medicine and some Western doctors often denigrate Chinese Medicine and argue that it is not “scientific.” The illusion that has been fostered in the 21th century Western world is that anything ”scientific” or “newly discovered” must be superior to everything that came before it, that the only knowledge of value is knowledge derived during the past 50 years. In reality, medicine that has little effect and doesn’t improve a patients symptoms will disappear from the market place in a very short time simply because it doesn’t work. If a treatment is ineffective, it will not be continued. Of the 5000 new drugs unleashed on the public every year 4000 of them have to be withdrawn after 5 years because of adverse side effects. Any Chinese herbal treatment or healing system that has existed for several thousand years is effective and has proven its effectiveness in the experience of thousands – if not millions- of patients and doctors. This is a far tougher standard than the testing of a few hundred people or rats in a laboratory. Western Medicine or Allopathic Medicine as it is sometimes called is still in its infancy compared to Traditional Chinese Medicine. Western Medicine as we know it came into being in Germany at the end of the 19th Century, a little more than a hundred years ago. While there has been much progress and tremendous innovation, Western Medicine is still a young and evolving science; Traditional Chinese Medicine on the other hand is based on thousands of years of experience and study.