What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is comprised of acupuncture, herbal medicine, and other accessory modalities. TCM has its own theory of the body based on energetic pathways (meridians) as well as other physical observations which determines the course of each individual treatment. The body is healthy when its energy is in harmony and flowing; the body is unhealthy when there is disharmony or its energy stagnates.
Excellent medicines have emerged from many ancient civilizations. China is unique in that, for a number of social, cultural, political, and economic reasons, its medicine experienced a relatively continuous development. Generations have continued to refine and develop the rich medical traditions that can be traced to classic ancient texts, many of which are thousands of years old.
Traditional Chinese Medicine has its own medical schools, clinics, and hospitals. Half-a-million TCM doctors in China and thousands of acupuncturists and herbalists outside of China treat billions of people internationally. Hundreds of medical journals record and assess clinical results. TCM practitioners and researchers use modern research techniques to conduct systematic and extensive research. When herbal formulas are used properly, practitioners and patients find that they offer reliable clinical results.
Growing numbers of medical consumers are interested in natural medical treatments with few side effects. Chinese herbal formulas are gentle yet powerful treatments that offer natural alternatives to pharmaceuticals. Even when consumed in dosages five times that of what is recommended, most herbal formulas are safe and non-toxic.
Some people radiate health: their hair, skin, and nails shine, their eyes are clear, they have a good energy level and an even emotional state. Others don’t radiate health: They may catch colds frequently or have a hard time getting through a day because of poor energy. They may have chronic pain or poor digestion. If this kind of person goes to an allopathic physician (a Western-trained M.D.), the physician will probably run a number of blood tests, do a thorough physical, and may find that “nothing is wrong.”
The state of health of the person who does not look or feel well is considered the same as that of the person who clearly looks and feels healthy. Many people who seek out “alternative medicine” have had this experience. Others have been diagnosed as having illnesses that have limited treatments according to allopathic medicine or whose treatments consist of continuous medicating with drugs that may have short-term or long-term side effects.
Many Western herbal and allopathic treatments are aimed at treating symptoms. In order to maintain a relief from symptoms, the treatment must be continued indefinitely. Chinese herbal formulas target the underlying conditions that lead to symptoms. Once the underlying condition is treated, the symptoms will subside, and treatment can be stopped.
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TCM Modalities offered at Shen Shen:
Acupuncture treatments seek to balance energy along specific pathways in the body to maintain or restore harmony in the body’s systems.
Your treatments begin with a short intake during which your practitioner will listen to your issues and go over your intake forms and make an assessment about what needs to be balanced based on the information you give. Every effort will be made to make you comfortable while the needles are working their magic. Everyone is different and treatments may vary depending on the day and person. Sometimes, you’ll have 10 needles in, sometimes 25, maybe more. Our job is to do what it takes to bring your body and energy back into balance. You may feel some needles more strongly than others, and that’s okay. Remember, we’re working with energy and sometimes, in order to tonify and balance, energy needs to be encouraged to “move along” rather than remain stagnant.
Stagnation is the root cause of disease in traditional Chinese medicine, and every effort is taken to eliminate it. Our goal for your is the free flow of energy along your energy pathways (meridians) so you can enjoy harmony and perfect health.
Sometimes accessory treatments may be necessary – cupping or gua sha – in order to relieve stagnation or to aid the flow of energy. Your practitioner will discuss these options with you as well.
Acupuncture treatments should be more frequent during times of acute discomfort so we can manage the issue and restore harmony to the body’s systemic flow. During times of relative health, acupuncture is best used to maintain good flow of energy on a regular basis. Talk to your practitioner and you can decide what suits your needs best.
Cupping is a type of therapy that uses small glass cups which are suctioned onto the skin for a few minutes at a time. This therapy is used to eliminate toxins, invigorate qi, and relax the muscles. It is most often used for muscular pain/tightness, but can also be used for anything from digestive disorders to allergies. If it is necessary, practitioners at Shen Shen Health & Harmony may use this therapy during an acupuncture session.
Guasha is a Traditional Chinese Medicine technique that involves stimulation of the surface of the skin with a round-edged instrument (such as a typical, porcelain Chinese soup spoon). The scraping of the skin results in the appearance of reddish/purple petechiae (the “sha” of gua-sha), breakage of the subdermal blood vessels which lasts 3-5 days after treatment. The appearance of the “sha” is a desirable confirmation of the efficacy of the treatment.
Gausha removes blood stagnancy, which is considered to cause harm to the body by disallowing healthy circulation of the blood through the tissues. Immediate relief from pain, stiffness, fever/chills, cough, nausea, etc. is commonly experienced.
Guasha can be used for many different types of disorders including acute upper respiratory problems such as cold/flu-like symptoms, chronic aches and pains, digestive disorders, and may be helpful in alleviating symptoms of multi-systemic disorders such as sleep apnea and headaches.
Asking: A TCM practitioner wants to know about every symptom you feel. Sometimes this is a difficult task for patients who are used to seeing allopathic practitioners that do not require or ask for the same information. There is no such thing as an insignificant symptom or problem in TCM. Your TCM practitioner may ask you whether you have a tendency to feel hot or cold, whether you tend to have a certain taste in your mouth, about the quality of your sleep and digestion, whether you have a tendency toward a certain emotional state (e.g. sadness, depression, anxiety), and whether you have any pain or swelling. Remember that TCM and allopathic medicine have different ideas about what is normal. In allopathic medicine, it is considered within normal limits for a woman to have strong menstrual cramps for two days during her period. In TCM, this is a significant symptom that offers the practitioner important information. Therefore, it is important to tell your TCM practitioner all the symptoms and complaints you have. Every single sign you think is abnormal offers your practitioner valuable information.
Looking: A TCM practitioner can tell many things about a person simply by looking. A TCM practitioner observes:
Mental Energy (Shen): By noting complexion, eyes, state of mind, responses and speech
Body: Including general body shape (that which we’re born with), long-term constitutional changes (weight and shape, e.g. heavy or thin), and short term changes (e.g. skin tone changes)
Face, Eyes, Nose, Ears, Mouth, Lips, Skin, Hair, Teeth and Gums: The surface of the body offers information about inner health. For instance, a pale and lusterless puffy face, red eyes, dark purple lips, or dry hair all provide information. While ethnic and racial diversity means that people will have different characteristics and features, the TCM practitioner looks for what transcends the range of normal. It is best to avoid wearing makeup when visiting a TCM practitioner.
Tongue: An extremely important aspect of TCM diagnosis, tongue observation offers the TCM practitioner vital information. The TCM practitioner observes the color, shape, and coating of the tongue in order to learn about the patient’s overall condition as well as information about digestion, circulation, general energy and more. It is best to avoid consuming anything other that water one half-hour before your visit with a TCM practitioner. Also, please do not scrape or brush your tongue before visiting.
Hearing and Smelling: The quality of the patient’s voice, the sound of a cough and breathing can offer the TCM practitioner clues. Likewise, body smells, such as breath smells, also provide information. It is best to refrain from using perfumes or colognes when visiting a TCM practitioner.
Pulse: Perhaps the most difficult method of diagnosis in TCM, pulse diagnosis provides the practitioner with key information. Whereas, in allopathic medicine the pulse may be taken to identify its rate and regularity, in TCM, there are 28 different qualities that may describe a pulse. Also the pulse is taken at three different positions in both wrists and at three different levels (superficial, middle, and deep). The right side offers different information from the left and the six different positions and three different levels correspond to various areas of the body. Pulse diagnosis is an extremely intricate method of diagnosis.
After the herbalist has a thorough picture of your health, he or she will recommend an individualized herbal program for you to follow. Traditionally, herbs have been administered in a number of different forms. They have been boiled in water and taken as tea, made into pills, tinctures, powders, and as topical plasters. Today, herbal companies have developed other forms (capsules, tablets, granular teas) that are more convenient and palatable. Along with an herbal program the TCM practitioner may recommend acupuncture.
Fewer Side Effects: Chinese herbal treatments are taken in a natural and whole food form. For example, teas are decocted from whole roots, stems, and leaves, and capsules are filled with crushed whole food material. Chemical medicines are made by locating active chemical compounds and creating medicines from these compounds. When reduced to its chemical fundamentals, pharmaceuticals can have side effects. When used appropriately, most Chinese herbal treatments will cause no side effects, as long as they are used in their whole food form. Research in China has shown that when reduced to their active chemical compounds, Chinese herbal treatments will cause side effects. This is one reason why TCM practitioners continue to use whole food forms of treatments. Because TCM treatments have not been reduced to their active compounds, they must be consumed in larger quantities and more frequently than most chemical pharmaceuticals.