Acupuncture is just one aspect of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Understanding acupuncture and TCM begins with the concept that energy (Qi) flows through energy pathways called meridians. According to TCM, when Qi is flowing freely, a person is healthy; when the flow of Qi is blocked, health problems can develop. Blocked Qi can result in excess Qi in one area and deficient Qi in another area.
Other theories of traditional Chinese medicine that inform the practice of acupuncture–to varying degrees, depending on the style–include:
- Five element theory, which recognizes that Qi flows in cycles with five phases represented by Earth, Fire, Metal, Water and Wood.
- The theory of blood is more than the Western definition of blood. According to TCM, blood is dense body fluids that Qi has acted on and energized. TCM practitioners look for blood deficiency, blood stagnation and heat in the blood.
- Yin/Yang are opposite qualities. For example, Yin is cold, damp, chronic and quiet, while Yang is hot, dry, acute and simulating. Ideally, Yin and Yang are in balance, but excess or deficiency can develop. For example, symptoms of Yang deficiency include fatigue, weakness and lethargy.
TCM primarily uses these diagnostic methods:
- Asking a patient about her symptoms, health history, lifestyle and other details.
- Listening to the voice, respiration and cough, and smelling the breath or any other odors of the body.
- Looking at the outward appearance of the body, including body shape and demeanor, facial colors, condition of the skin and qualities of the eyes.
- Palpating the skin and muscles and taking the pulses (pulse diagnosis is a skill that can take many years to develop).
A TCM diagnosis is then made in the form of Qi excess/deficiency, yin/yang imbalance or other imbalances, rather than a Western medicine diagnosis of disease.
Acupuncture and TCM
Acupuncturists use a TCM diagnosis to varying degrees; some acupuncturists rely more on a Western physician’s diagnosis to determine acupuncture treatment. Regardless, according to TCM, acupuncture points lie along the meridians. The acupuncture practitioner inserts needles into selected points based on the diagnosis. The goal is to stimulate the flow of Qi and bring the body into balance, allowing the body to heal itself.
Ying Yang House. (2006). TCM acupuncture theory, treatments, protocols and resources. Retrieved March 7, 2011, from http://www.yinyanghouse.com/theory/chinese/acupuncture_information
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (2009). Acupuncture: An introduction. Retrieved March 7, 2011, from http://nccam.nih.gov/health/acupuncture/introduction.htm
Wyith Ltd. (n.d.). Diagnosis methods in TCM. Retrieved March 7, 2011, from http://tcmbasics.com/diagnose.htm