What is Traditional Chinese Medicine? – Cleveland Clinic

Even if you don’t know the basics of traditional Chinese medicine yet, you probably know some of its practices. Maybe you had an acupuncture session, or took turmeric for arthritis pain, or signed up your child for a class at the local tai chi studio. Or maybe you’ve just wondered about those circular bruises on the backs of your favorite Olympic swimmers.

Each of these practices is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which involves creating balance in the body to maintain health and well-being.

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Acupuncturist Yaser Abdelhamid, LAc, explains what traditional Chinese medicine is, what treatments it includes, and how it can help you maintain your health.

Understand the basics of traditional Chinese medicine

At the base of traditional Chinese medicine is the concept of Qi (pronounced “chi”).

“Qi is translated into English as the energy, power or force that runs through the body in order to give vitality to each cell,” explains Abdelhamid. Qi is said to travel through your body via pathways called meridians.

And remember the emphasis on balance? Enter yin and yang, opposing but interconnected forces. “Yin and yang are the complementary natures of qi,” says Abdelhamid. Yin is associated with traits like cold and negative energy, while yang is associated with warmth and positive energy.

In TCM, the unbridled movement of qi and the balance between yin and yang are the keys to your health.

5 TCM Practices and What They Can Help Treat

Traditional Chinese medicine does not replace conventional medicine. But it is an excellent supplement, emphasizing the well-being and well-being of the whole body.

“TCM shines when it comes to promoting optimal health and empowering patients to participate in their journey to fundamental healing using foods, herbs, movement therapies and more,” says Abdelhamid.

It explains some of the traditional Chinese medicine practices that are popular in North America.

1. Acupuncture

You may be familiar with acupuncture, the insertion of thin, sterile, disposable metal needles into your skin to relieve symptoms of disease and restore balance to bodily functions.

“The benefits of acupuncture are varied, but it is best known in the United States for treating painful conditions,” notes Abdelhamid. “More physicians and surgeons than ever before are referring their patients to acupuncture therapies to treat pain.”

Now so popular in the United States that it is covered by many health insurance plans, acupuncture is commonly used to treat problems such as:

  • Arthritis.
  • Back pain, neck pain or muscle pain.
  • Headaches and migraines.
  • Knee pain.
  • Menstrual cramps.
  • Mind and mood issues, such as stress, anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • Infertility.
  • Discomfort related to pregnancy.

Your acupuncturist may also perform other TCM practices during your acupuncture sessions:

  • ear seeds target acupuncture points without using needles. Your acupuncturist applies tiny metal beads or seeds to the acupressure points in your ears. They are attached to a sticky bandage to hold them in place.
  • Guasha is a type of tool-assisted massage that improves circulation and promotes healing. Practitioners use a smooth-edged tool, such as a porcelain spoon, to scrape or rub the parts of your body where there is inflammation.
  • Moxibustion is the practice of heating dried, ground mugwort herb on needles or along certain points on your skin to increase energy flow.

2. Cupping

A Chinese adage teaches: “Where there is stagnation, there will be pain.” Take away the stagnation and you take away the pain.

Cupping is meant to remove blockages, or stagnation, in the flow of your qi. Small cups (in the US, usually plastic or glass) create a suction effect against your skin, which opens up tiny blood vessels beneath its surface. Your body replenishes blood in hollow areas to induce a healing response. According to TCM, this helps unblock your qi and restore the flow of energy throughout your body.

Cupping is especially popular with athletes and others seeking help with issues such as:

  • Arthritis.
  • Back, neck, knee and shoulder pain.
  • Respiratory problems, such as asthma.
  • Gastrointestinal problems.
  • Headaches and migraines.
  • High blood pressure.

3. Chinese herbal medicine

Herbal medicine is the ancient tradition of using various Chinese herbs to improve health. Depending on your specific health needs, trained herbalists create custom herbal blends in capsules, liquid tinctures or formulas.

There is extensive and ongoing research on the safety of these herbs. “Chinese herbalism is as old as recorded history but as new as the most recent research and scientific investigation into them,” says Abdelhamid.

Chinese herbs are commonly used for:

  • Allergies.
  • Autoimmune disorders.
  • Side effects of cancer treatment.
  • Digestive problems.
  • Infertility.
  • Regulation of the immune system.
  • Menopause.
  • Menstrual pain or endometriosis.

4. Qigong

Qigong, which translates to “working with qi,” is a mind/body practice that uses simple poses and breathing patterns to prevent and reduce stagnant or blocked qi.

Using movement, meditation, and rhythmic breathing, qigong (similar to tai chi, below) can help to:

  • Reduce depression.
  • Relieve stress.
  • Reduce chronic fatigue.
  • Boost your immune response.
  • Improve the well-being of people with cancer.

5. Tai Chi

Sometimes described as “moving meditation,” tai chi is a martial arts-based form of exercise that consists of slow movements and deep breathing techniques. It is suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels.

“In Eastern and Far Eastern thought, there is an understanding that the body was designed by heaven for movement. This is when the body is physically at its best, in terms of optimal strength, endurance, flexibility and mobility,” explains Abdelhamid. “In contrast, Eastern philosophy states that the mind was designed by Heaven for stillness. This is when we are at our best internally, with the greatest capacity for memory, attention, concentration, decision-making and intellectual activity.

“Outwardly moving, but still inwardly – it’s the yin/yang ideal of living a balanced human existence that we should all strive for.”

The slow, purposeful movements of tai chi are designed to energize and balance your qi, providing you with physical and mental benefits. Studies show that tai chi can:

  • Relieve fibromyalgia pain.
  • Reduce depression.
  • Sharpen memory and thinking skills.

What the science says

Modern science does not show definitive evidence of qi or the meridians through which it is believed to flow, but the popularity of traditional Chinese medicine has remained constant over the centuries for improving health and well-being used alongside therapies. conventional medicine.

“Modern medicine shines when it comes to implementing crisis interventions and disease management,” says Abdelhamid. “We should be grateful for emergency departments, operating rooms, burn units, trauma care facilities, lifesaving pharmaceuticals, etc.”

But TCM is a valuable addition to modern medicine, recommended by medical professionals who appreciate the importance it places on promoting health, balance and well-being.

“It’s important for patients to know that they can benefit from acupuncture and other traditional Chinese medicine practices alongside standard modern medicine,” Abdelhamid encourages.