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 www.acupuncture.com to start.

Leave a Reply