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Traditional chinese medicine

What is it?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been practiced for more than 3000 years. Almost one-fourth of the world uses Chinese medicine therapy. TCM is a system of diagnosis and treatment that is very different from Western medicine. TCM care givers try to learn about your patterns of imbalance and create a treatment plan to restore balance and health to you.

TCM care givers use concepts that are not part of Western medicine to evaluate you. Yin and yang are two opposite conditions that balance each other in the body. Yin can be described as solid, cold, water, or the earth. The opposite concept yang can be described as hollow, hot, fire, or the sky. Cold cannot be fully understood until one also experiences hot. Together the two opposites define the whole.

Another concept important to TCM medicine is called chi (also called qi). Chi is energy that moves in the body. The force behind chi is the constant movement of energy needed to maintain a balance of yin and yang.

If either yin or yang is increased (or decreased), the balance is lost and illness may occur. Illness occurs when the chi cannot flow freely. Without the movement of chi energy, the yin/yang balance cannot be maintained. A TCM care giver prevents or heals illness by balancing yin and yang and restoring the free movement of chi.

TCM care givers do not use lab tests, x-rays, or technology to uncover organ problems. A weakness in an organ is related to its inability to perform its function. The care giver can also determine weaknesses by feeling your pulse, looking at your tongue, or feeling acupuncture points related to the organ.

The first visit to a TCM care giver is usually 60 to 90 minutes. The care giver will ask many questions about your past and present health. You will be examined to try to find the pattern of imbalance that is causing your illness.

The care giver will choose a treatment plan that will correct your imbalance. Two patients with the same Western medicine diagnosis could receive different treatments if they have different imbalances. TCM care givers use Chinese herbs, acupuncture, massage, food therapy, and/or exercise to correct the problem.

TCM is helpful for chronic illnesses, such as asthma, allergies, headaches, and high blood pressure. It may also be used to treat gallbladder disease, diabetes, digestive problems, and menopause. TCM is used to treat acute illnesses, such as injuries and infections. In China and the United States, TCM is being successfully combined with conventional medicine.

There are now about 10,000 trained acupuncturists practicing in the United States. The legality of practicing acupuncture varies from state to state. Some states do not allow acupuncture while others limit its practice to medical doctors and chiropractors. Where acupuncture is legal, the acupuncturist must have graduated from an approved school and passed a licensing exam. Many massage therapists offer tui na or TCM massage. TCM exercises known as Tai chi and Qi Gong are becoming very popular, making it easy to find instructors to learn them. Chinese herbalists are commonly found in cities that have a Chinatown and most acupuncturists are trained to use Chinese herbs.

For more information:


1. Burton Goldberg Group: Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide. Future Medicine Publishing, Puyallup, WA; 1994.

2. Inglis B & West R: The Alternative Health Guide. Alfred A. Knopf, NY, NY; 1983.

3. Kastner MA: Alternative Healing: The Complete A to Z Guide to Over 160 Different Alternative Therapies. Halcyon Publishing, La Mesa, CA; 1993.

4. Sifton DW: The PDR Family Guide to Natural Medicines and Healing Therapies. Three Rivers Press, NY, NY; 1999.

5. Woodham A & Peters D: Encyclopedia of Healing Therapies, 1st ed. Dorling Kindersley, NY, NY; 1997.

Last Updated: 9/15/2016

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