What Is Traditional Chinese Medicine?

July 10, 2016

Over the past several decades, Eastern alternative (also called complementary or integrated ) medicine practices have continued to be adopted by conventional medical establishments in the U.S. and other Western nations.

The Department of Complementary-Alternative Medicine at Medical University of South Carolina reports that according to a 2013 study of 3,200 physicians conducted by Health Products Research, more than 50 percent of physicians in the U.S. planned to begin or increase use of alternative medicines, including those rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), within the following year.

More and more medical schools are now recognizing the importance of training students and staff in “mind-body” practices that emphasize disease prevention and holistic treatments. Although some physicians and patients tend to be skeptical about the effectiveness of many TCM practices, research continues to show that complementary modalities can make a big difference in many patients’ quality of life.

Several of the advantages that Traditional Chinese Medicine and other Eastern practices have to offer include a high level of patient compliance (often due to patients noticing improvements in their symptoms quickly), reduced stress levels, natural pain management, improved sleep, stronger immunity and decreased need for medications.

What Is Traditional Chinese Medicine?

Traditional Chinese Medicine is a type of holistic, natural health care system that dates back at least 2,000 years to the year 200 B.C. TCM is “holistic” and “natural” because it stimulates the body’s own healing mechanisms and takes into account all aspects of a patient’s life, rather than just several obvious signs or symptoms. TCM practitioners view the body as a complex network of interconnected parts (part of a larger concept known as Qi), rather than separate systems or organs.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, Traditional Chinese Medicine treatments aim to correct imbalances in the body and primarily work in three major ways:

Addressing a patient’s external factors and environment

Helping patients relate to their internal emotions in a healthier way, including managing stress

Improving someone’s lifestyle factors, including diet and exercise routine

Organs that are especially focused on during TCM treatments include the kidneys, heart, spleen, liver, lung, gallbladder, small intestine and large intestine. Depending on the specific type, the benefits of TCM therapies range considerably. Some of the health problems most commonly treated with Traditional Chinese Medicine therapies include:

Chronic pain
Liver disease
Hormonal imbalances
High blood pressure
PMS or menopause symptoms
Cancer recovery or chemotherapy

Different Traditional Chinese Medicine therapies include:

Acupuncture: Helps lower pain, improve hormonal balance and combat stress
Cupping therapy: Used for pain management, improving immunity and helping with digestion
Herbal medicine: Used to control inflammation, fight free radical damage and boost liver function
Nutrition: For preventing deficiencies, boosting energy and improving detoxification
Exercise: Including Qi gong or tai chi for flexibility, strength and concentration
Massage: Soft tissue manipulation for improving blood flow, one of which is called tui na
Moxibustion: Burning an herb near the skin

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