The thing about Traditional Chinese Medicine

People who are not familiar with acupuncture always ask if it can treat a certain syndrome, disease or malady.  The thing about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is that it is viewed from a completely different angle than Western Medicine.  There are ‘Patterns of Disease’ in TCM and every known or unknown disease or syndrome will fall into one of the ‘Patterns.’  This then determines the treatment. In order to diagnose or find the ‘Pattern of Disease’, the Acupuncturist takes a complete physical history, notes the symptoms, checks for physical signs, asks about lifestyle and diet,  checks the pulses (yes pulses, there are six different ones in TCM) and then finally checks the tongue.  Then the diagnoses according to TCM is made and the acupuncture points chosen and applied.

So the answer to the question at the beginning of the first paragraph is a definite Yes. But we treat it according to TCM as a ‘Pattern.’  Most treatments for those first-timers is usually for pain.  This could be from neck to knee pain, but pain.  TCM considers and treats this as local stagnation.  The school that I trained in, a traditional school of Chinese Medicine, addresses pain as number one when a patient presents as such.  Some cases present with pain due to an accident which definitely calls for local treatment along with some additional points for immune or systemic support.  Other pain presents from repetitive motion, wear and tear to inflammatory pain such as arthritis.  Here again we are trained to treat the pain first and foremost and adding additional points to support the body in self-healing and strengthening.  For these type cases, I may offer/suggest herbals and/or supplements for supporting healing and possibly prevention of further damage as in arthritis or strained or pulled muscles.  If one is on medication for their pain, I usually do not suggest any additional herbals or supplements unless they ask and then I advise them to talk with their doctor before going off the medication or adding anything new.

Note:  All offerings/suggestions of herbals and/or supplements are a result of my research in this field.  I usually offer along with the suggestion of supplement, the research or a website on the particular suggestion.

Many people also ask how Acupuncture works and are really asking how it compares to the Western Medicine that they understand.  There is no real comparison of TCM to Western Medicine; the best explanation I can give in most cases is that acupuncture increases blood circulation to the pain area bringing nourishment to the damaged tissues and carrying away waste as in lactic acid to over-used muscles. (See the form Acupuncture Research under Acupuncture in my Blog for some scientific theories of how/why it works)

Acupuncture training is usually a three year program, all of which is learning the ins and outs of Traditional Chinese Medicine, learning where the fourteen (14) main meridians course throughout the body, learning where all 400+ points are and what each one does, learning the Patterns of Disease and how to diagnose them and then what the best course of treatment is. (not to mention the practice and practice of needle placement)  It is very intense and complicated, but the most interesting part of my life was learning TCM.  The reason I mention the complications of TCM is just that, it is complicated and one does not need to know how it works to take advantage of it and of the fact that it does work for many people for many different issues.

One aspect of acupuncture I think is very interesting and  one I like to tell my new  patients who are  looking for some understanding of acupuncture is this:

There are 14 main meridians (energy passageways) running throughout the body.  They come in pairs; seven are Yin and seven are Yang.  Yin is passive, quiet, cool, night-time, female. Yang is aggressive, loud, hot, daytime, and male.  When the pairs come together and are balanced they complement each other.  Each of the pairs has a Yin and Yang aspect. Each of the pairs has three things/duties in common.  Each pair is responsible for a body tissue, a sensory organ and an emotion.

For example the Liver (Yin) and the Gallbladder (Yang) are the pair responsible for all the tendons in the body, they service and nourish them. They ‘open to the eyes’  (sight) which means they are responsible and service this sensory organ and the emotion connected to the Liver/Gall Bladder pair is Anger.

Another example is the pair Kidney (Yin) and Urinary Bladder (Yang). They service all the bones in the body, ‘open to the ear’ (hearing) and the emotion connected to these two is Fear.

These examples are some of the criteria considered when diagnosing in TCM and finding the ‘Pattern of Disease.” For instance if a  patient presents with painful, stiff joints, eyes may be red or dry/itchy and emotionally on the angry side, the acupuncturist knows we are likely dealing with one of the ‘Patterns’ dealing with Liver/Gall Bladder.

I am sure it all sounds like a foreign language to you, and it did to me when I started my training.  I was very fortunate as the school I attended was staffed with Chinese doctors mostly from Shanghai University who were excellent teachers and very authentic.  I will never forget the first thing we all learned was how to pronounce Ying and Yang.  One could always tell the freshmen in the school as they still spoke of Ying and Yang and after only a few days with one of the Chinese doctors or professors Ying quickly became Yin (with an almost silent Y) and Yang became a quick and shortened Young.

This narrative is meant to give you a feeling of acupuncture and not meant to confuse you.  Sometimes when someone asks me ‘How does it work?” and depending on my mood, I may answer with “Do you have three years to listen?  Hope you enjoyed the quick review, but my main hope is that you get a feel of acupuncture and the real message that you do not have to understand it to embrace it.

Thanks for listening.
There is a lot of information out there on how it works if one really wants more information, I suggest to start.




Source:    Lisa Gutierrez, Knight Ridder News Service

©  Landmark Communications Inc.


THEY WERE the hickey marks seen round the world.

Photographs circulated around the globe of actress Gwyneth Paltrow at a movie premiere in a black strapless top with big, dark, circular marks marching across her back. A beating? A weird skin condition? Had she been mugged by an octopus?


She’d been cupped, and lots of other folks are walking around with similar marks on their bodies.


Cupping is an ancient Chinese procedure performed by acupuncturists to treat everything from lower back pain and arthritis to lung congestion, even infertility. Think of it as an intense, vigorous massage – with a whole lot of suction action.

During a cupping procedure, heated cups are placed over the skin and left there for anywhere from a few minutes to as long as 30. As the air inside the cup cools, the skin and underlying tissue is “sucked” up into the cup – thus the marks – increasing blood circulation to the area.

Helen McCollum, a licensed acupuncturist in Virginia Beach , has practiced cupping since 1998.

“In this area, I end up treating more pain than maintenance,” she says, adding that it works well on pains like a knot in the back or shoulder or a charley horse.

McCollum usually pairs cupping with acupuncture for a treatment. Certain acupuncture points, such as the liver, are excellent areas for the cupping technique, she says.

Alternative BodyCare in Virginia Beach offers a similar technique using a massage therapist’s bare hands. Picture two hands cupped, as if they are holding water, and then turned upside down. A hollow, percussion sound is created when the hands drum on a patient’s back and ease lung congestion.

Gale Gervais, owner of Alternative BodyCare, says actual cups seem like they would create a similar effect to the hand massage stroke.

“It forms like a little vacuum. It doesn’t just affect the skin. It goes deeper than that,” she says.

One way of applying cupping involves heat. A patient lies face down on a massage table, stripped to the waist. An acupuncturist dips a cotton ball or swab in alcohol and sets it afire with a lighter. Next she picks up a small glass cup shaped like a tiny fish bowl.

She pushes the cotton torch inside the cup, pulls it out and swiftly plops the bowl onto an acupuncture point on the patient’s back.

Because the heat depressurized the air inside the cup, creating a vacuum, the cup sticks tightly to the back. Within seconds, the skin underneath the cup begins to slightly darken as blood rushes to the spot.

Cupping doesn’t always involve fire. Another method of suction involves cups with valves. A small, hand-operated pump attached to the cup’s valve is used to suck the air out.

People who’ve been cupped say that it doesn’t hurt, that it feels like a gentle squeezing, or tightening, of the skin.

“It feels like a wonderful massage,” says McCollum.

In Kansas City , acupuncturist Kathleen Coleton finds that cupping is most beneficial for people with muscle aches, especially on the back and across the shoulders. She likens the suction treatment to grabbing onto a muscle and not letting go of it until it relaxes and releases its tension.

“I don’t think cupping is appropriate for every part of the body,” says Coleton, a member of the Missouri Acupuncturist Advisory Committee, which licenses and regulates all acupuncturists in the state.

For instance, cupping wouldn’t work on something like Parkinson’s disease, because “it doesn’t affect the neurological system,” Coleton says. And someone with fibromyalgia, who may be physically weak and especially achy, “a lot of times can’t take a real aggressive treatment” of cupping, she says.

“And at certain points of the body there’s not enough muscle. You probably wouldn’t, but could, do it on the face. And you probably wouldn’t want to do it on the front of the neck … but on the back of the neck where people get tension headaches.”

Depending on how many cups are applied, a procedure can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. McCollum charges $60 for one treatment, which lasts at least an hour.

As Paltrow knows, the procedure can leave marks, which typically disappear after three to six days.

McCollum says she often limits the amount of time that the cups are applied so they don’t leave marks behind.

“I haven’t met too many people in this area who would like to walk around with red marks on their back.”

Gwyneth Paltrow’s cupping marks are evident as she attends a

screening of “Anchorman, The Legend of Ron Burgundy.”

©  Virginian-Pilot