Alternative Medicine Traditional Chinese

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which dates back several thousands of years, became widely known in the U.S. in the 1970s. TCM aims to treat the whole person, including body, mind and spirit, rather than just addressing certain symptoms or a specific condition.

Principles of TCM

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, energy called “qi” (or “chi”) circulates through the body on pathways called meridians. Illness occurs when this energy is interrupted or unbalanced. TCM can identify energy disruptions that create sub-health states, which haven’t yet manifested as illness. Treating these states may prevent the condition from fully developing.

TCM operates under eight guiding principles, including “yin” and “yang.” Yin energy is generally cold, female energy that represents the solid organs and chronic illness. Yang energy is generally hot, male energy that represents the hollow organs and acute illness. The other guiding principles are:

  • Cold/Heat (overall energy). A cold condition involves slow metabolism, chills, pale skin and a low-grade fever. A hot condition involves increased metabolism, hot sensations in the body, high fevers and a flushed complexion.
  • Deficiency/Excess (strength of an illness). A deficient condition involves a lack of blood (for example, anemia), energy, heat or fluids. With an excess condition, the body has too much of something.
  • Interior/Exterior (location of symptoms).

TCM uses the five-element theory, which states that wood, fire, earth, metal and water govern everything, including health.

A TCM practitioner asks detailed questions to determine how you fit into these principles. She’ll ask about your symptoms and perform a physical exam, including taking six pulses in each wrist and assessing your tongue.

Practices of TCM

Here are the primary techniques in Traditional Chinese Medicine:

  • Acupuncture and acupressure use needles or manual pressure on acupoints along the body’s meridians to stimulate the flow of energy.
  • Chinese herbal remedies kindle the body’s self-healing ability.
  • Diet and food
  • Exercise, mainly moderate and gentle, moves “qi”and blood around the body. TCM doesn’t promote rigorous exercise.
  • Moxibustion,the burning of the herb “moxa” (Chinese mugwort) above the skin, aims to warm or heat the acupoints. Moxibustion is often combined with acupuncture.
  • “Tui na,” a type of Chinese massage, integrates soft-tissue manipulation, as well as external herbal poultices, compresses, liniments and salves.

The Western View

Since Traditional Chinese Medicine takes a holistic view, it’s difficult to study using standard Western research methods. Research tends to focus on two aspects of TCM, mostly acupuncture or Chinese herbal remedies. Some research supports the effectiveness of both acupuncture and some Chinese herbal remedies for certain conditions.

If you’d like to try Traditional Chinese Medicine, find a qualified practitioner. Most states license acupuncture, but licensing may not require mastery of all TCM techniques. Ask about the practitioner’s training and experience or, better yet, search for a practitioner through the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.


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National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (2009). Traditional Chinese medicine: An introduction. Retrieved August 23, 2010, from

Shen-Nong. (n.d.). Common TCM questions. Retrieved August 23, 2010, from

University of Maryland Medical Center. (2009). Traditional Chinese medicine. Retrieved August 23, 2010, from