What you need to know about Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been around for 2,500 years. It comes from different premises than western medicine does. The structure of the medicinal system is completely different all the way through. Study is different, so is diagnosis and treatment.

The Basics

According to TCM, a flow of vital energy circulates through the body via meridians. In addition, to this vital energy qi and the meridians, there are two types of organs and the blood.  When all of these are balanced, in the sense of a Yin-Yang equanimity, the person will be in good health. When there is an imbalance or a blockage of the vital energy, then trouble will follow.


TCM diagnosis is completely different from western methods. The practitioner will look not necessarily at the disease itself, but rather symptoms related to the imbalance of Yin and Yang. Diagnosis results after a long consultation which includes looking at the patient’s history, but also looking at the tongue and pulse points.

The tongue is used as a major diagnostic guide. The color of the tongue shows the state of the organs and qi. The shape reflects the state of the blood and indicates excess or deficiency.  The moisture level suggests the state of body fluids.


There are many different types of treatment. Acupuncture, the most well-known, involves the use of needles of different thickness which are placed at different depths in acupressure points distributed across the meridians.  The width and depth change what the needle does – but the effects are often an immediate relief from symptoms.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Less well known is moxibustion. Dried Chinese Mugwort is burned causing huge clouds of smoke, which smells a little like marijuana. The burning aims to cause heat above the acupressure points and have an effect similar to acupuncture.

Chinese Herbal medicine is known for its use of plants and herbs, sometimes toxic ones, to restore balance. The toxicity of some of the ingredients, as well as the unacceptability of others such as powdered rhinoceros horn, make the west suspicious herbal medicine, especially as the effects remain unproven.

In addition to these three, Chinese therapeutic massage tui na is used to dissolve blockages. Tai chi and Qi Gong are also medicinal as well as therapeutic promoting good health.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Treatment according to the individual

TCM treats the individual holistically and so two people with the same disease may get different treatments whereas two with a different disease may get a different approach altogether. It would depend on the practitioner’s diagnosis of the yin-yang balance as well as where they saw blockages in qi.

This all sounds sensible and seems to have a logic to it, yet TCM gets such bad press. I think the answer comes down to the teaching and the lack of quantifiable results. Even TCM practitioners disagree between themselves and so teaching in anecdotal rather than systemic. In essence, you can never be sure this guy knows the same things as the last guy you saw.