The practice of traditional Chinese medicine (CM) is very complex. People often ask “how does acupuncture work?” or “what types of conditions can acupuncture treat?” The answers to such questions are much more involved than a simple list of ailments. Simply put, and CM is an ancient, energetic, holistic medicine that takes into account all aspects of a person’s lifestyle and symptoms in order to make a diagnosis and treatment strategy. Let’s break this down more clearly.
- Ancient: Chinese medicine has been practiced for over 3,000 years. The practice itself has gone through many evolutions throughout the years. The fine, thin needles that we use today are a far cry from the sharpened bones the pioneers of TCM used years ago. From an herbal perspective, there are many herbs that we no longer use due to animal extinction and animal protection.
- Energetic: Chinese medicine views the body in terms of energy, or qi. Qi is the life force and is required to maintain life. When qi is completely absent, life cannot exist. Qi drives the organs to function and is responsible for maintaining homeostasis in the body. Qi flows throughout the body at all times through channels, each named after an organ. The CM concept of organ function has nothing to do with Western science. CM organ diagnosis always refers to the energetic functioning of these organs. Each organ channels contain points, which is the basis for acupuncture. (Acupuncture uses needles to activate the points) Each point has a specific function, and when an acupuncturist puts together a “point prescription”, it is a unique combination of points used to achieve a specific treatment goal. Thus, the main goal of CM is to balance the energy to improve body function.
- Holistic: There are many different factors that affect a person’s energy balance, including emotional states, diet, exercise and environment. This means that every person is a unique presentation of characteristics and many different aspects of their lives must be understood in order to make a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. This also means that a person’s dietary habits, emotional states and lifestyle choices play a huge role in their health and wellbeing. Therefore in treating someone from a CM perspective, we must take into account all aspects of a person’s wellbeing in order to give comprehensive care.
Finally, CM treats the body symptomatically—we listen to each person’s chief complaints and form a large part of the diagnosis on their symptoms. To get objective information, we feel the radial pulse on both sides and look at the tongue. When we feel the pulse, we feel in 3 different positions (index, middle and ring fingers are used). Each position corresponds with a different organ and we are feeling for the quality of the pulse: strong, weak, wide, thin, etc. Then the tongue is also a great tool to tell us about the state of energy within the body. We look at the color, shape, coating and moisture of the tongue’s body. Different areas of the tongue also correspond with different organs, which allows the acupuncturist to determine specifically where pathology may reside.