Introduction to Traditional Chinese Medicine
So you’ve been back and forth to your GP for months now, but there is no sign of your condition abating. You may even have been told that Western Medicine doesn’t have an answer to your problem – or worse, it may not even recognise your problem at all. It’s time perhaps for you to consider Chinese Medicine, which may hold some interesting possibilities.
For many of us this is our first exposure to Chinese Medicine, often with dramatically positive results. The last twenty years has seen a burgeoning rise in the popularity of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). This growing interest is not based on a fad, but on impressive results and word-of-mouth. Indeed in recent years, private health insurance has recognised the valuable contribution of this medical system and have started supporting qualifying treatments. It’s worth taking a closer look at TCM, to see what benefits it may hold for all of us.
What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?
Traditional Chinese Medicine is a complete medical system, which is based on an energetic model rather than the biochemical model of Western medicine. Through TCM diagnosis a patient’s overall health is evaluated in finding the cause of illness. All disease is believed to stem from three causes – Internal (emotional factors), External (climatic conditions), and Circumstantial (injury, diet, exercise, and our constitution). The aim of therapy is to improve the patient’s overall health, rather than target isolated symptoms, which can vary from person to person. This includes an insight to the person’s body, mind, and spirit. TCM’s holistic approach often contrasts with Western medicine, which commonly treats multiple symptoms in isolation from one another.
TCM consists of four main components: Acupuncture, Herbal/Dietary therapy, Massage therapy, and Medical Qigong.
Acupuncture is the most widely recognised form of Chinese Medicine in the West. The main treatment principles consist of balancing a patient’s “Qi” (pronounced Chee). Qi is the life force energy that underlies everything in the universe. When it is condensed, it is matter; when it is refined it becomes spirit. It is generated inside our bodies from a combination of the food we take in and the air we breathe. The Qi should flow harmoniously along 12 primary meridians or channels to all parts of the body. Sometimes these meridians become blocked or restricted due to emotional trauma, poor diet, injury etc. The goal of the practitioner is therefore to restore proper Qi flow within the body through the insertion of tiny acupuncture needles skilfully positioned on the body.
Acupuncture is used to treat a wide variety of conditions. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises over 180 conditions that have been scientifically verified to respond well to treatment including: asthma, acne, back pain, eczema, hypertension, IBS, infertility, insomnia, menopausal symptoms, migraine, psoriasis, sinusitis and stress.
Herbal medicine is a major pillar of Chinese medicine. Chinese herbal formulae are made from the roots, stems, bark, leaves or flowers of many plants, as well as some mineral and animal products. They are taken by over one billion people in Asia and have been used for thousands of years.
There are over 400 herbs in use today. Chinese herbs are usually prescribed as a carefully balanced combination. The preparation and combining of the herbs requires considerable experience. Many of the herb combinations are therefore prepared and imported from China. Specific combinations of herbs may be useful as tonics for people who are depleted in energy and may be used to treat a wide variety of conditions.
Chinese herbal medicine also involves dietary therapy, as proper nutrition is seen as fundamental to maintaining optimum health as well as for the treatment of disease. Foods have many similar properties to herbs and an old Chinese adage asks, “Are herbs food or food herbs?”
Chinese herbs cure energetically by stimulating Qi flow in the meridians. Different herbs enter different channels and affect different internal organs. Chinese herbal medicine is a comprehensive form of medicine that can effectively address a wide variety of conditions. It has a long clinical history of treating acute and chronic conditions and often excels in treating conditions that Western medicine has difficulty in treating, as well as conditions that often go undiagnosed in Western medicine, such as Chronic fatigue and IBS.
Chinese Massage Therapy
Chinese massage therapy is a generic term used to describe all Chinese therapeutic tissue manipulation including Tui Na. This therapy focuses on external tissue manipulation and adjustment of the muscles and tendons to correct abnormal Qi circulation within the body’s muscular system. It also aims to correct deviant functions of internal organs.
Chinese massage therapy is suited to the treatment of specific musculo-skeletal disorders and chronic stress-related disorders of the digestive, respiratory and reproductive systems. For example, lumbago, back pain, sciatica, PMS, and chronic constipation respond well to this form of TCM.
Perhaps one of the most dramatic growth areas in terms of Chinese medical practice in the West is the interest in Qigong. Qigong is the most widely used form of Chinese Medicine and can be translated as energy cultivation. Once again Qigong aims to restore harmony to the individual’s energy system through meditation, breath control, physical movement and stances. Tai Chi is a category of Qigong that may be familiar to many people.
Medical Qigong is in fact the oldest form of Chinese Medicine and considered by many to be the most powerful. In this, the practitioner emits his own Qi through key acupuncture points in his body to affect the flow of Qi in that of the patient. This is done without any physical contact in most cases. Many of the principles of more modern forms of “energy healing” have their roots in Medical Qigong therapy. The gathering support of Medical Qigong’s efficacy at treating life threatening illnesses has lead Stanford University’s Medical Hospital to commence its first Medical Qigong program for cancer patients.
Medical Qigong can help in the fight against virtually any disease from Multiple Sclerosis to cancer. However, Medical Qigong therapy should only be carried out by a qualified practitioner, who has specialised and advanced training in this discipline.
How to Find a Practitioner
A Chinese Medical practitioner may be skilled in one or more forms of Chinese Medicine. They may have had training in the West or in China, but they should hold an officially recognised qualification and belong to a professional register. Although Chinese Medicine is generally quite safe you should check that your practitioner holds professional indemnity insurance. A consultation with a practitioner should usually begin with a full investigation of the patient’s medical history and current health condition.
In my own experience both as a practitioner and as a patient, I have found that many conditions actually respond better to Traditional Chinese Medicine than to conventional Western Medicine. Perhaps the next time you are unwell, you might even consider your Chinese medical practitioner as your first port of call.
What conditions does TCM treat?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) lists over 180 conditions that TCM has a proven effectiveness in treating. These include:
Digestive disorders – gastritis and hyperacidity, spastic colon, constipation, diarrhea.
Respiratory disorders – sinusitis, sore throat, bronchitis, asthma, recurrent chest infections.
Neurological and muscular disorders – headaches, facial tics, neck pain, rib neuritis, frozen shoulder, tennis elbow, various forms of tendinitis, low back pain, sciatica, osteoarthritis.
Urinary, menstrual, and reproductive problems.