Chinese medicine is a comprehensive medical system that dates back over 2,000 years. It is a complex system, with it's own medical theories, diagnostics, and therapies. Chinese medicine is flourishing world wide, with an increasing amount of research and development, and practitioners in over one hundred countries.
What is the theory of Chinese Medicine?
At the core of Chinese medical theory is the understanding that we are intimately connected to our environment. Extremes of nature such as dryness, cold, heat, and dampness can affect our internal environment and cause health problems. Strong emotions such as sadness, anxiety, and stress can also contribute to disease. Western medicine is just starting to recognize the connection between emotional state and certain diseases such as heart disease. Other causes of illness include trauma, inadequate nutrition and lack of exercise.
What diagnostic methods are used in Chinese Medicine?
Through the Chinese medical diagnostics: Asking, Observing and Palpating, a Chinese medical practitioner can discern disharmonies and disease processes.
Asking: A Chinese medical practitioner asks questions detailing all aspects of life. These questions will cover topics such as:
Thirst and sweating patterns
Quality, frequency and duration of pain
Digestive system function
Renal system function
Observing: As a practitioner asks questions, she observes a patient closely. Facial color, body language, tone and intensity of voice all give clues to a patient's underlying patterns and disharmonies. Careful observation of the tongue is one of the most informative and important Chinese medical diagnostic procedures. The tongue is innervated by meridians, which closely connect it to the organ systems. The tongue's color and coating reflect the state of the whole body's energy level, blood, and digestive function. Areas of the tongue represent specific regions of the body. For example, the heart and lungs are represented on the tip, the spleen and stomach in the middle portion, the kidneys in the back, and the liver and gallbladder on the sides of the tongue.
Palpating: The Chinese system of pulse diagnosis is very complex. The practitioner feels the pulse in three different places on each wrist. Each pulse position represents a different organ system. Chinese classic texts describe 28 possible pulses that each position could have! Practitioners use pulse diagnosis to determine how the organs systems relate to each other.
What modalities are used in Chinese Medicine?
There are many modalities and therapeutic methods available to Chinese medical practitioners such as acupuncture, moxabustion, cupping and herbal prescriptions.
Acupuncture is the most well known of these tools, and it is discussed in detail on the Acupuncture page.
Moxabustion is not as well known, but to the Chinese, is just as important as acupuncture. The Chinese word for acupuncture is more accurately translated as acumoxa. For hundreds of years acupuncture and moxabustion have been used together in clinical practice to prevent and treat illness. Moxabustion consists of gently warming acupuncture points with moxa (dried mugwort). It is used to improve digestion, ease muscle pain, promote soft tissue healing, and stop excessive menstrual bleeding. In Chinese studies moxabustion has been shown to increase platelet, red and white cell counts.
Cupping consists of placing a vacuum-sealed cup on the skin in order to improve local circulation. The vacuum seal is created through briefly placing a lit cotton ball into the jar until the oxygen is extinguished and then quickly attaching the jar to the skin. Cupping is usually performed on the back to relieve muscle pain. It can also be done on the abdomen for stomach pain, nausea or diarrhea. Cupping is used on the chest as well to treat acute asthma or coughing attacks.
Herbology has a very long history in China. There are over 400 herbs in the Asian Materia Medica. Their effects alone and in combination with one another have been studied for generations. Ancient and newly devised formulas comprised of herbs that are anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, and immune stimulating, are available to treat a wide variety of conditions. See the Herbology page for more information on this modality.
Who can practice Chinese Medicine?
Chinese medical practitioners who are trained in the United States attend 3-4 year full time graduate programs. Though there is some variation in these programs, they generally include Chinese medical theory, acupuncture theory and technique, herbology, and Western medicine. Practitioners can become nationally certified, and many states offer licensure. In California, practitioners must pass a rigorous examination to become licensed.