Chinese Medicine - The science & artistic execution of its theory

Acupuncture has a clearly recorded history of about 2,000 years, but some authorities claim that it has been practiced in China for some 4,000 years. Over time as different dynasties ruled China, the art and science of traditional Chinese medicine remained the principle form of medicine that was used to treat all disease, injury and illness. In the nineteenth century, a war torn China was infiltrated with medical missionaries who brought the ideas of western medicine to the East.

When the communist party took power in 1949, acupuncture gained new momentum. During the early 1950’s, the previously established Western hospitals and clinics in China began to study acupuncture and its clinical significance. They began teaching acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine and using it to provide treatments for patients. Over the years, thousands of case studies have been recorded for various disease conditions from these hospitals and clinics all over China.

Acupuncture then became very popular in North America after President Nixon’s visit to renew relationships with the Chinese in 1970. During the trip, a member of his staff required an appendectomy, which he received in a Chinese hospital using acupuncture as the only form of anesthesia.

Soon after this impressive encounter, President Nixon helped to organize a cultural exchange of medical practitioners between the US and China.

Japanese acupuncture significantly differs from Traditional Chinese acupuncture in its delicacy. This is principally because of the fact that, for the last three hundred and fifty years, the leading figures in its development have been blind. (In fact, even today, 40% of acupuncturists in Japan are blind).

The obvious differences between Japanese and Chinese practice, are that the amount of needles used is less, and that they are inserted often barely deeper than 1 or 2mm, with an absolute minimum of manipulation.  Japanese treatments also include abdominal palpation and diagnosis, as well as acupuncture points to go along with the diagnosis.

Theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine

The Western doctor observes the facts before him and uses current physiological theories to explain the cause and effect of disease patterns. Chinese medicine is based on a much wider world view, which has its roots in philosophy and nature. The Taoist concept of health is to attain a harmony between the opposing forces of the natural world, Yin and Yang. 

Day gives way to night, night to day; a time of light and activity (Yang) is followed by darkness and rest (Yin). Flowers open and close, the moon waxes and wanes, the tides come in and go out; we wake and sleep, breathe in, breathe out. Yin/Yang is a constant, continual flow through which everything is expressed on the one hand and recharged on the other. They are an inseparable couple. Their proper relationship is health; a disturbance in this relationship is disease.

Acupuncture is far more than a technique of inserting tiny threadlike needles along meridian lines of the body. It is part of a complex medical system that depends on diagnostic methods which take into consideration the person as a whole and not just as an isolated set of symptoms. The ideas of Yin and Yang mentioned above are applied to every system in the body such as the circulatory, digestive and endocrine systems. The confusing part is that the Chinese medical text has its own language which translates these systems into such English words as heart, stomach and kidney. Chinese medicine further identifies several properties of disease as being extensions of nature found in the human body such as heat, fire and wind. The simplistic translation is misleading because the true explanation behind the terms fire and wind is very complicated and intricately woven throughout the web of knowledge that makes up Chinese medicine. The term ulcer, for instance, no longer has just one meaning. In Chinese medicine an ulcer can be caused by several different disease patterns and then the treatment can be applied based on which one the patient represents.

The tools with which to treat diseases multiply exponentially when you have multiple causes for each diagnosis as you do in Chinese medicine. Acupuncturists, who have learned this extensive language of theories, have another set of medical principles to apply to disease patterns. This is responsible for how acupuncture can often be effective when western medicine has run out of treatment options. In Chinese medicine, the patient’s symptoms are treated as a unique disease pattern and the treatment options are tailored to meet the individual’s health concern. The communication breakdown between the two medicines is primarily responsible for the misunderstanding about Chinese medicine is and how it works. Current research is seeking to find the meaning behind the foreign language of Chinese medicine and to prove its efficacy.

How is TCM different from Western Medicine?

We can best answer this question by explaining the basic framework of both forms of medicine. The main form of medicine in the United States is known as Western medicine or Biomedicine. Western medicine relies on the belief that disease is a defect within the human body or a destructive process caused by a specific outside pathogen. In the US, medical doctors use reductionism to employ diagnostic tools, find the disease-causing invader, control symptoms and cure the disease. There are three main components of treatment available within Western medicine: pharmaceuticals, surgery and therapy (physical therapy, psychiatric therapy, orthotics, speech therapy, etc.).

Acupuncture is the main part of another form of medicine called Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM looks at multiple symptoms and their pattern of illness specific to the individual and delineates their cause from a combination of negative imbalances within the lifestyle, psyche, and effects of environmental stress, trauma or invasion by external pathogens. TCM utilizes a holistic approach to medicine and does not try to find one exact reason for illness; rather, it acknowledges that there are several factors that contribute to problems arising in the physical body. There are five main components of treatment available within TCM: acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, tui na (similar to massage), Tai Ji/Qi Gong (movement and stretching exercises) and nutrition.

Western medicine evolved in Europe and relies on clinical research to show an exact link between cause of disease and its clinical manifestations. This leads to specific diagnostic tests and then treatments to understand and affect the human body, with vocabulary focusing on genetics and biochemistry. Traditional Chinese medicine evolved in China and relies on human trials that have taken place over thousands of years to validate effectiveness. Because results were based on human experience and not laboratory data, a different vocabulary developed to explain how energy (qi) and blood travel through the body in certain pathways (meridians) and can get obstructed by trauma, emotions, environmental factors and lifestyle choices. It is also worth noting that because TCM is a science that has been perfected through its use on humans, the number of practitioner caused deaths or even negative side-effects is virtually non-existent.

One type of medicine is not superior to the other. They comprise the two main forms of medicine practiced in the world today. Because Western medicine is the primary form of medicine in this country, TCM is considered an alternative form of medicine and is used as a complementary approach to that of Western medicine. We hope this website serves to illustrate that TCM, when applied through acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, can be used as a successful choice for restoring and maintaining optimal health.

Current Trends

Today, you can see acupuncture clinics in almost any city in America. Due to the rising number of accredited schools offering masters degrees and PhD’s in traditional Chinese medicine, the standards required to practice the medicine are continually rising. Acupuncturists in America take on a rigorous, four-year course of study in acupuncture, Chinese herbology and Traditional Chinese medical diagnostics. In addition to this, throughout their training they are required to become familiar with Western medical pathophysiology and differential diagnosis, as well as staying abreast of pharmaceutical drugs and herb-drug interactions.

Currently, there is much research being done to determine how exactly acupuncture works and for what conditions it is most beneficial. There are several research clinics in the United States evaluating the effectiveness of acupuncture and investigating the basic physiological mechanisms of treatment. The National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine of the NIH received $123.1 million in funding for the research of Alternative medicine in 2005. In China, and increasingly in America, doctors and scientists are aware of the current theories and explanations of how and why acupuncture works. They are themselves, alongside western acupuncturists, contributing to this new field of research.