Traditional Chinese medicine

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Traditional Chinese medicine is the formalized system that resulted, combining acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, tui na and other modalities. After the Cultural Revolution, TCM was incorporated into university medical curricula under the "Three Roads" policy, whereby TCM, biomedicine and a synthesis of the two were all encouraged. Subsequently, forms of classical Chinese medicine other than TCM were outlawed, and some practitioners left China. The "Three Roads" approach corresponds to using TCM in the context of complementary medicine, where classical TCM is a "whole system" in the terminology of complementary and alternative medicine.


In the TCM view, the body is a delicate balance of two opposing and inseparable forces: yin and yang, with the energy between them in the form of qi.[1] A healthy person has a proper balance between yin and yang; disease comes from blocking the flow of qi. Qi flows along pathways called meridians.

Yin and Yang

Yin represents cold, slow, or passive aspects of the person, while yang represents hot, excited, or active aspects.

The Five Element theory

Next, there are five elements to consider: [2]wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Each, in turn, has an associated season and organ system. In a major difference with Western medical separation of mind and body, each organ is associated with a kind of thought. The TCM practitioners asks many questions about emotion, which are used in localizing the problem to one or more organ systems, and thus to seasons and elements.

Relationships of the Five Elements
Element Season Organ (sense)
Wood Spring Liver (planning, storage of anger) and gall bladder (decisionmaking)
Fire Early summer Heart and small intestine
Earth Late summer Stomach and spleen
Metal Autumn Lungs and large intestine
Water Winter Kidneys and bladder


The practitioner palpates pulses in far more places than would a Western practitioner using pulses simply to assess circulation. Great attention is also paid to the tongue. [3]


TCM practitioners typically use herbs, acupuncture and a family of procedures that originated in traditional Chinese medicine. In this context, acupuncture is broader than the use of needles alone, and includes acupuncture and moxabustion.

Treatments in TCM are typically tailored to the subtle patterns of disharmony in each patient and are based on an individualized diagnosis. The diagnostic tools differ from those of conventional medicine Medicine as practiced by holders of M.D. (medical doctor) or D.O. (doctor of osteopathy) degrees and by their allied health professionals such as physical therapists, psychologists, and registered nurses.. There are three main therapeutic modalities, often used in combination, along with diet, exercise, and other areas often called "lifestyle modification" in Western medicine:

  1. Acupuncture and moxibustion: Acupuncture points, are locations along meridians, which can be affected by techniques involving manual pressure (i.e., acupressure), the insertion and manipulation of needles (i.e., acupuncture), or the application of heat (e.g., moxabustion). The source of heat is usually a vegetable product and may have additional properties in herbal medicine. There are hybrid Chinese-Western methods where the needles may be attached to sources of electricity.
  2. Chinese Materia Medica (the catalogue of natural products used in TCM)
  3. Massage and manipulation: this is not limited to acupressure, but includes a variety of passive and active techniques of motion

Acupuncture family

Chinese Materia Medica

"Properties are tastes, temperatures, and qualities of an herb. The possible tastes are sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, bland, salty, astringent, and aromatic. It may have other qualities such as toxic. The possible temperatures are cool, cold, warm, neutral, and hot.

It is very important to understand that herbs do not possess one quality. They are most always a combination of properties and temperatures and may reach one to as many as twelve organ systems." [4]

Massage and Manipulation


  1. "qi"is the correct spelling in pinyin, which is the Romanization scheme approved by the Chinese government and used by (probably) most western scholars today. "Ch'i" (note the apostrophe!) is the correct spelling in the Wade-Giles system, which was widely used before pinyin, and is still used by some western scholars today and in any case survives in many older texts. There are words spelled "chi" in both systems, but none of them is the one we're talking about here.
  2. Alternative Medical Foundation, Traditional Chinese Medicine: An Alternative and Complementary Medicine Resource Guide
  3. Leon Chaitow, Viola M. Frymann, Graeme Chambers (2003), Special Topic 11: Palpating the Traditional Chinese Pulses, Palpation and Assessment Skills: Assessment and Diagnosis Through Touch, Elsevier Health Sciences, ISBN 0443072183,, pp. 335-339
  4. Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, A Quick Guide to Oriental Medicine Herbs