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Chinese Medicine

Chinese Medicine which is also called Oriental Medicine*, is an extremely precise and complete medical system. Chinese Medicine originated in ancient China and has evolved over thousands of years. It has been continuously practiced for over 4,000 years, yet continues to be the main Health Care system in China and across Asia. In the United States, Chinese Medicine is considered part of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).
Chinese Medicine emphasizes individualized treatment beginning with a comprehensive examination of the patient. Practitioners traditionally used four methods to evaluate a patient’s condition: observing, hearing/smelling, asking (case history), and touching/palpating. This includes everything from monitoring the patient's pulse to noting the color and texture of the tongue.
This examination will help the practitioner find imbalances in the patient's Qi (or chi). Weakness, excess or imbalanced Qi is considered the underlying cause of disease and disharmony. The practitioner uses a wide range of techniques to restore balance to a patient's Qi, thereby encouraging health and healing disease.
Chinese/Oriental Medicine is a complex and complete medical system. There are Five Branches of Oriental Medicine: acupuncture; herbal medicine; tuina (oriental bodywork); mind-body exercises (tai qi and qi gong) and diet and lifestyle counseling.
*You may also hear the terms Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Classical Chinese Medicine.

What is the History of Chinese Medicine?

chinese medicine: taking the pulse

Chinese medicine (traditional Chinese: 中醫) is a broad range of medicine practices sharing common theoretical concepts. It has been continuously practiced for over 4,000 years. The earliest known records are attributed to Shénnóng (神农, lit. 'Divine Farmer'), 3494 B.C. The ancient Daoist monks left detailed records of extensive herbal studies aimed at finding 'elixirs' to provide a healthy and long life. His writings, the "Shénnóng Běn Cǎo Jīng" (神农本草经, Shennong's Materia Medica) is considered the oldest book on Chinese herbal medicine. It classifies 365 species of roots, grass, woods, furs, animals and stones.

Starting in the 1950s, these precepts were modernized in the People's Republic of China so as to integrate many anatomical and pathological concepts of modern scientific-based medicine. Chinese medicine is currently practices alongside ‘modern’ medicine in many Chinese hospitals and clinics.

Today, Chinese Medicine is gaining acceptance and popularity in the United States and around the world. In the United States it is estimated that some 10,000 practitioners serve more than 1 million patients each year. (estimated in 1997) In the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, which included questions on the use of various CAM therapies, an estimated 3.1 million U.S. adults had used acupuncture in the previous year. In addition, approximately 17 percent of adults had used natural products, including herbs.

What is the philosophy of Chinese Medicine

chinese five elements chart

Chinese Medicine is based on the principle that we are a part of nature. Health is established when harmony is achieved both within ourselves and in relation to the natural world. In diagnosing and treating an illness, Chinese medicine looks for the root cause in order to reestablish, balance and restore health.

Underlying the practice of Chinese Medicine is a unique view of the world and the human body that is different from Western medical concepts. This view is based on the ancient Chinese perception of humans as microcosms of the larger, surrounding universe - interconnected with nature and subject to its forces. The human body is regarded as an organic entity in which the various organs, tissues, and other parts have distinct functions but are all interdependent. In this view, health and disease relate to balance of these functions.

Chinese Medicine 's view of the body places little emphasis on anatomical structures, and is mainly concerned with the identification of ‘functional entities’, which regulate the body’s processes (digestion, breathing, aging etc.). While health is perceived as harmonious interaction of these entities and the outside world, disease is interpreted as a disharmony in interaction. Chinese Medical diagnosis consists of tracing a person's symptoms to patterns of an underlying disharmony.

Central to Chinese Medicine is the principle that a vital energy or life force, called Qi (chee) circulates in the body through a system of pathways called meridians. Health is an ongoing process of maintaining balance and harmony in the circulation of Qi. Imbalances, excess or weakness of a person’s Qi causes illness and disease.

Why use Chinese Medicine?

In addition to being effective for many acute and chronic common illnesses, Oriental Medicine has much to offer those who wish to raise their quality of health and vitality. Practitioners of Oriental Medicine operate with prevention in mind, attempting to correct small energetic imbalances before they become big health problems. As well as treating illness, Chinese Medicine emphasizies a healthy lifestyle including exercise, proper nutrition, stress reduction and immune system strengthening.

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How does Chinese Medicine differ from medical acupuncture or acupuncture performed by a chiropractor?

There is a vast difference between an acupuncture certificate and an acupuncture license. In the United States, medical doctors and chiropractors can obtain an acupuncture certificate by attending a short workshop, sometimes as little as 200 hours. In contrast to this certificate level, a full license to practice acupuncture requires a minimum of three to five years study. Licensure also requires passing a masters or doctoral level nationally accredited university program and state and national board exams.

How does Chinese Medicine work to prevent illness?

Chinese Medicine seeks to determine the “root cause” of a condition and proceeds toward bringing the body back into balance by supporting its innate ability to heal itself. It strengthens the immune system, increases energy, and promotes vitality. A skilled practitioner of Oriental medicine is able to diagnose imbalances and offer treatment, often before a manifestation of illness or injury occurs.

What kind of disorders can Chinese Medicine treat?

Chinese Medicine is effective for a wide range of illnesses and health concerns. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends Chinese Medicine for treating the following conditions:

  • Digestive Disorders – Diarrhea, Constipation, Gastritis, Acid Reflux, GIRD, Ulcers, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Colitis, etc.
  • Pain – Migraine/Headache, Back and Neck Pain, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Sciatica, Tendonitis, Toothache, Arthritis, Injuries, etc.
  • Respiratory Disorders – Asthma, Allergies, Sinusitis, Sore Throat, Pneumonia, Cough, Bronchitis, Common Cold, Flu, etc.
  • Women’s Issues – PMS, GYN disorders, Menopause, Irregular menstruation, Painful periods, Endometriosis, etc.
  • Circulatory Disorders – High or Low Blood Pressure, Cold Extremities, Palpitations, Bruising or Bleeding, etc.
  • Emotional Disorders – Anxiety, Depression, Insomnia, PTSD, Stress, etc.
  • Neurological Disorders – Bell ’s palsy, Numbness, Stroke, MS, Parkinson’s, Neuropathy, etc.
  • Urinary/Kidney Disorders – Kidney Stones, Cystitis, Bladder Infection, etc.
  • Children’s Diseases – Measles, Mumps, Growing Pains, Ear Aches, etc.
  • Other – Vertigo, Prostatitis, Skin Disorders, Diabetes, Conjunctivitis, Fatigue, Liver & Gall Bladder Problems, etc.

What services can a Chinese Medicine practitioner provide?

Chinese Medicine is a complex and complete medical system. There are five major Branches of Oriental Medicine:

  1. Acupuncture
  2. Chinese herbal medicine
  3. Tuina (oriental bodywork)
  4. Mind-body exercises (Tai QI and Qi Gong)
  5. Diet and lifestyle counseling

A Chinese Medicine practitioner may use a variety of therapies including: Acupuncture, Acupressure, moxibustion, Tuina massage, therapeutic exercises, cupping, Gua Sha, herbal medicine, nutritional counseling, breathing exercises, and oriental medical diagnosis.

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture (Simplified Chinese: 针灸) is one of the five main branches of Chinese Medicine. The goal of acupuncture is to promote healing through re-balancing the patient's Qi (or chi) energy. When the Qi is weak, excessive or blocked, it can cause illness and disease.

By insertiion of thin, sterile needles into strategic points on the meridians, a practitioner is able to encourage the smooth flow of energy that is vital for the body to heal itself, thereby reestablishing and maintaining good health.

* Please see our page on Acupuncture for more detail.

What is Moxibustion?

Moxibustion (traditional Chinese: 灸術) is a Chinese medicine technique that involves the burning of moxa (mugwort, a small, spongy herb) to facilitate healing. Moxibustion has been used throughout Asia for thousands of years. The purpose of moxibustion, as with most forms of Chinese medicine, is to strengthen the Blood, stimulate the flow of Qi, and maintain general health.

Moxibustion can be applied directly to the area of the body that is in need of healing. It can also be used indirectly being held above the area that is being worked on. Moxibustion is often used for cold, damp or stagnant conditions. The burning of moxa is believed to expel cold and warm the meridians, which leads to smoother flow of Blood and Qi.

What is Tui Na [too-ee na]?

Tui Na (traditional Chinese: 推拿) is a form of Asian bodywork most closely resembling conventional western massage. Many of the techniques are similar; kneading, percussion, rubbing, rotation, rocking and stretching. Despite the similarities, Tui Na is usually of shorter duration and focuses on reducing inflammation and increasing blood flow to the joints and the soft tissues. Oriental massage is typically administered with the patient fully clothed, without the application of grease or oils.

What is Cupping?

chinese cupping

Cupping (traditional Chinese: 拔罐) is one of the oldest methods of Chinese medicine. It is often used in respiratory conditions such as bronchitis, asthma and colds. It is also used to reduce inflammation and muscle pain.

Traditionally, to perform cupping, a match is lit and placed inside a glass cup and then removed before placing the cup against the skin. As the air in the cup is heated, it expands, and after placing on the skin, cools, creating lower pressure inside the cup creating suction. The suction increases blood flow, decreases inflammation and relieves pain. Cupping can be left in place from 5 to 10 minutes. Several cups may be placed on a patient’s body at the same time. During some treatments, a small amount of herbal oils is applied to the skin just before the cupping procedure; this allows the cups to be moved up and down offering 'reverse-pressure massage'.

What is Gua Sha? [gwa sha]

chinese Gua sha

Gua Sha traditional Chinese:(刮痧) is a healing technique used in Chinese medicine. It involves palpation and ‘cutaneous stimulation’ in which the skin is pressed with a ceramic spoon or other Gua Sha tools. This causes the appearance of small red patches. "Gua" means to scrape or rub. "Sha" is a reddish, elevated patch of skin. The red spots and bruising take 3 to 10 days to heal, there is often some soreness in the area that has been treated.

Raising "sha" removes blockages in blood stagnation, thereby promoting normal circulation and metabolic processes. Gua Sha stimulates the immune system, detoxifies and deacidifies, promotes the circulation, regulates functions and organs, removes blockages and pain, revitalizes and regenerates and reduces inflammation.

What is Qi Gong [chee-gung] ?

chinese Qi gong

Qi Gong, (simplified Chinese: 气功: literally "Life Energy Cultivation"), is a practice of aligning breath, movement, and awareness for exercise, healing, and meditation. With roots in Chinese medicine, martial arts, and philosophy, Qi Gong is traditionally viewed as a practice to cultivate and balance qi (chi). Typically,   a Qi Gong practice involves rhythmic breathing coordinated with slow stylized repetition of fluid movement, a calm mindful state, and visualization of guiding Qi through the body.

Qi Gong is practiced throughout China and worldwide. It is considered by some to be exercise, and by others to be a type of alternative medicine or meditative practice. Traditionally, Qi Gong is believed to help develop human potential, allow access to higher realms of awareness, and awaken one's 'true nature'.

What is Chinese food therapy?

Chinese food therapy (traditional Chinese: 食療) is the belief in healing through the use of natural foods instead of or in addition to medications.

Chinese food therapy dates back as early as 2000 BC. The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine, also known as the Huangdi Neijing, which was written around 300 BC, was most important in forming the basis of Chinese food therapy. It classified food by four food groups, five tastes and by their natures and characteristics.

In Chinese food therapy, foods are categorized as Yin and Yang. Yang foods are believed to increase the body's heat (e.g. raise the metabolism), while Yin foods are believed to decrease the body's heat (e.g. lower the metabolism). The Chinese ideal is to eat both types of food to keep the body in balance. An unbalanced diet can lead to disease. For example, a person eating too much Yang food might suffer from acne and bad breath while a person eating too much Yin food might be lethargic or anemic.

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