Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a comprehensive medical system that has its origins in China. TCM encompasses a variety of complementary modalities including acupuncture, acupressure, Chinese herbology, cupping, Chinese dietary therapy, moxibustion, and Chinese style bodywork. TCM is based on the belief that all things in the universe are connected. In people, the mind, body, and spirit are similarly viewed as an energetic system in which all body systems and organs are connected. TCM can be used to treat and/or prevent disease.
Contrasting East and West
TCM has a deep tap root of a recorded history greater than 2,000 years, a history that is still honored today. TCM addresses the subtle, significant energetic determinants of health that regulate balance. It is symptom-based, individualized, holistic, minimally invasive, strengthening, and respectful of nature.
Though Hippocrates, the Father of Western Medicine, lived nearly 2500 years ago, the roots of modern Western medicine as it is practiced today have their origins in the early to mid 1800s. It was then that Western medicine took a sharp turn toward a diagnosis-based, mechanical, drug-based, technological, anatomical view of the body that divided and reduced the whole person into its parts in an attempt to better understand it. Western medicine often opposes nature (as in anti-inflammatory, antihistamines, antibiotics).
If Western medicine were symbolized by the newest gleaming piece of medical equipment, TCM would be symbolized by a living, flowing stream.
The body energetic
TCM understands that an imbalance, deficiency, or blockage of energy flow results in pain and disease. This natural flow of energy is called Qi (pronounced chee). Qi is referred to as the life force, the vital force that is responsible for nourishing and activating the mind, body, and spirit. More than 365 acupoints on the body that are connected by twenty pathways called meridians.
There are twelve major meridians, each connected to a particular organ, plus eight extra meridians. Qi travels through the meridians, connecting the organs to each other and the interior of the body to the exterior. They form a virtual road map of the entire body.
The art of acupuncture
Acupuncture is the practice of placing very thin needles at special junctures or “points” along these meridians to affect the energy and balance of the body. Needling tonifies what is deficient, reduces what is excessive, heats what is cold, cools what is hot, circulates what is stagnant, stabilizes what is reckless, raises what has fallen, and lowers what has risen. Acupuncture balances Qi, thus allowing normal flow of Qi throughout the body and thereby restoring health. Balancing the body is a delicate art. The acupuncturist must be sensitive and observant in determining which points to use and how to use them. After performing an individual assessment, an acupuncturist attempts to bring the body’s energy into harmony.
The science of acupuncture
In 1993, the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimated that Americans made 12 million visits to acupuncture practitioners. Acupuncture is one of the most thoroughly researched and documented alternative medical therapies, and is recognized by the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization as effective in treating a wide variety of medical problems. The existence of acupuncture meridians was documented by Western medicine’s scientific methodology in 1985, when radioactive isotopes injected into acupoints were tracked by gamma imaging and shown to have traveled about 12 inches within four to six minutes along the invisible pathways that acupuncturists had defined centuries prior. In a separate study, NIH researchers found that Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) brain scans of people who had various pain syndromes revealed brain changes consistent with pain. After receiving acupuncture treatment, follow-up SPECT scans showed changes in the brain consistent with baseline scans of the pain-free control subjects.
How does acupuncture work?
Due in part to the anatomical location of many acupuncture points near neural structures) much of the benefit of acupuncture is thought to derive from stimulation of the autonomic nervous system and the hypothalamus, the brain’s hormonal and emotional “control center.” Stimulation of acupuncture points results in the release of biochemicals in the muscles, spinal cord and brain. These chemicals either alter the experience of pain, or trigger the release of other chemicals and hormones that influence the body’s own internal regulating system.
Endorphins, one of the better known brain hormones that are responsible for feelings of pleasure, are produced from various activities, such as a “runner’s high,” eating chocolate, and laughing. Acupuncture treatments result in the release of this natural, morphine-like substance from the brain that reduces pain and increases feelings of well being.
Does acupuncture hurt?
Unlike hollow needles used to give an injection, the pre-sterilized, disposable needles used in acupuncture are solid and extremely thin, and simply part the skin. The needles stimulate sensation rather than cause pain. Acupuncture treatments are not painful. However, if significant pain is experienced when being needled, it could mean that the treatment is being administered improperly.
Other TCM healing modalities
- Moxibustion—the use of heat to stimulate acupuncture points, using a specific herb, Ai Ye (Chinese mugwort) that is burned indirectly over an acupuncture point
- Cupping—the use of glass cups over specific acupuncture points or areas of the body to “pull out” disease by creating a vacuum-like suction
- Chinese dietary therapy—an individualized nutrition program based upon TCM principles of balance
Chinese style bodywork/Tui Na (pronounced twee nah) – a traditional system of massage that invigorates Qi and promotes circulation.
Your acupuncture appointment
Your first visit to an acupuncturist begins with a detailed health history intake. Since TCM encompasses all aspects of mind, body and spirit, you may be asked questions that initially seem to be unimportant, but they are actually vital in determining the type of care needed. Such questions may include sleep habits, temperature preferences, dietary habits, primary emotions experienced, overall energy, etc.
After attaining your health history, the acupuncturist examines your tongue and pulse, two major diagnostic techniques of TCM. Using all three tools (intake, tongue and pulse examination), the acupuncturist will determine the cause of your symptoms and administer the appropriate treatment.
Your first visit may take between 60-90 minutes. Follow-up treatments are usually 60 minutes. Although a single treatment can improve some acute injuries or problems, most people see and feel significant results in four or five treatments. Of course, the total number of treatments varies according to the severity and duration of the condition. Any response is ultimately tempered by the overall health and vitality of the person being treated.
TCM has been shown to relieve these common conditions, among many others:
High Blood Pressure
Irritable bowel syndrome
Low back pain