Does Traditional Chinese Medicine Really Work? – FAQ 2022 Part 1

What is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an ancient system of medicine (approximately 5,000+ years old) based on five distinct branches or methods of treatment. These include:

  • Acupuncture – the insertion of very thin, sterile needles into specific points on the body for the purpose of regulating qi (pronounced “chee”), or the body’s energy. Points fall along with networks or “channels” that connect different organs and body systems together. Acupuncturists also use glass cups, electric stimulation machines, heat lamps, scraping tools, and moxibustion (burning of rolled herbs), to stimulate points or larger areas of the body. 
  • Acupressure – Chinese medical massage, also called Tui Na (translated as “Push-Pull”), is a vigorous style of massage that stimulates points without the use of needles. Techniques include: kneading, rolling, plucking tendons, rocking, shaking limbs and joints, passive stretching, and percussing.
  • Herbal Therapy – the use of traditional and modern herbal formulas in the form of raw herb teas (decoctions), powdered freeze-dried teas (granules), tea-pills (patent medicine), medicinal wines, and topical remedies. Chinese herbalists use a variety of plants, animal products and minerals to create custom formulas.
  • Dietary Therapy – the use of certain foods and dietary practices to treat various ailments and improve overall health and digestion. Different foods are used and prepared at different times of the year based on the patient’s condition.
  • Qigong – translated as “Qi-Work” or “Energy-Work”, combines breathing and stretching exercises for the purpose of harmonizing the mind and body to facilitate healing.

What conditions can Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treat?

In an official report, Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials, the World Health Organization (WHO) has listed the following symptoms, diseases, and conditions that have been shown through controlled trials to be treated effectively by acupuncture:

  • low back pain
  • neck pain
  • sciatica
  • tennis elbow
  • knee pain
  • periarthritis of the shoulder
  • sprains
  • facial pain (including craniomandibular disorders)
  • headache
  • dental pain
  • temporomandibular (TMJ) dysfunction
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • induction of labor
  • correction of malposition of fetus (breech presentation)
  • morning sickness
  • nausea and vomiting
  • postoperative pain
  • stroke
  • essential hypertension
  • primary hypotension
  • renal colic
  • leucopenia
  • adverse reactions to radiation or chemotherapy
  • allergic rhinitis, including hay fever
  • biliary colic
  • depression (including depressive neurosis and depression following stroke)
  • acute bacillary dysentery
  • primary dysmenorrhea
  • acute epigastralgia
  • peptic ulcer
  • acute and chronic gastritis

The WHO lists an additional 80+ symptoms, diseases, and conditions that may also be helped by acupuncture. 
Traditional Chinese Medicine doctors are trained to treat any condition they see. Some diseases are more difficult to treat than others, and some may only be relieved symptomatically, but with such a long and vast history of clinical observation and recorded analysis, Chinese Medicine has the potential to help most conditions. 

What will a typical Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatment session be like?

The first appointment is usually 1.5-2 hours long. The first half-hour to an hour consists of a review of the patient’s health history along with a Traditional Chinese diagnostic assessment. Practitioners use four different types of examination: (1) looking, (2) listening-smelling, (3) palpation, and (4) questioning. Looking includes not just observing the patient’s face and body, but also the tongue. Palpation includes the pressing and feeling of points, channels, organs, and the radial pulse on the wrists.

The last half-hour to an hour of the initial visit is reserved for acupuncture treatment. After the needles are inserted, the patient is left to rest for 20-25 minutes depending on time. Follow-up visits usually last 45-60 minutes. The first 5-15 minutes include a brief review and assessment of the patient’s condition since the previous treatment. The remaining time is utilized for treatment. Oftentimes follow-up visits allow more time for additional services, such as application of linaments, cupping, or gua-sha (scraping). 

If you would like to receive massage in addition to acupuncture, please schedule two separate appointments – one for massage and one for acupuncture.

How many treatments do I need before I feel a change? How often do I need treatment and for how long?

The number of treatments needed varies from person to person and depends on the nature of the condition. Some people experience a change after one treatment, while most experience a change after 1-3 months of continuous treatment. In the United States, acupuncture treatments are often received 1-2 times weekly, probably due to cost and schedule. However, in other places like China where acupuncture is integrated into the national medical system, patients may come in 3-4 times per week or even every day for acute or serious conditions. Some models of acupuncture treatment are built on courses of treatment, in which the patient is treated consecutively for a number of days, with a few days break before the next course is administered. This model can be very effective for many conditions. 

In general, chronic conditions require a longer duration of treatment than acute conditions, but this depends on the condition’s severity. Some conditions may require long-term, ongoing treatment to relieve symptoms, such as degenerative conditions or serious/traumatic injuries. Some people use acupuncture preventatively, coming in for monthly health maintenance and/or stress reduction. Others come in a few times a year at the changing of seasons to promote general well-being. Whatever the model of treatment, acupuncture is most effective when received frequently and consistently. The practitioner will tell you their professional opinion of how often and for how long you should receive treatment based on your individual condition.

I offer discounted treatment packages for patients that would like to be treated more than two times a week. Please ask me if you are interested.

What herbs should I carry and what are they like?

You can carry a line of high-quality Chinese classical formulas in capsule form. These are herbal mixtures that therapists prescribe based on a patient’s specific condition. The dosing varies based on the size, age, and constitution of the patient. If you cannot swallow capsules, they can be opened and poured into hot water to make tea. The company I use guarantees that the herbs are correctly identified and prepared and that their products are free from pesticides and adulterants. I can also write a prescription or herb protocol for products I don’t carry that can be purchased at a local health food store, Whole Foods Market, or ordered online. These products include vitamins, nutritional supplements, or other herbs for your particular condition. The types of products I recommend depending on the patient’s preference for capsules, tablets, tinctures, sublingual drops, teas, or raw herbs. All herbal or supplement recommendations take into account the patient’s use of prescription medications, OTC medications, and other herbs or supplements. Patients taking certain prescription medications are discouraged from taking herbs. However, nutritional supplements can be used instead to help support the patient’s health while continuing on their medications.

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