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June 20, 2018  |  Login
Traditional Chinese Medicine: Acupuncture and Acupressure
By James F. Balch, M.D. and Mark Stengler, N.D.
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Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is rooted deep in China's ancient past and has developed entwined with one of the world's oldest and most profound philosophies. At first glance by a Westerner, much of it may seem puzzling and alien, but a student of Chinese medicine can quickly gain an understanding of its basic tenets, as well as many practical remedies to ensure better health and prevent disease.

Few branches of alternative health care offer the wealth of experience associated with Chinese medicine. More than four thousand years ago, the healers in Chinese society began to experiment with various herbs to see which could cure physical and mental complaints. And not all their remedies came from plants. The medicines included a variety of minerals and animal extracts woven into a fantastic set of potions that were thought to have "magical powers."

Over the ensuing years, Chinese medicine grew up hand in hand with Chinese philosophy, following the Way, or the Tao, in search of simplicity and harmony in all things. For the Chinese physician, it was as important to understand the works of the philosopher Lao Tzu ("The Old Master," considered a contemporary of Confucius) as it was to study the collected masterworks of medicine. Central to this philosophy was the inevitability of change.

Meanwhile, in the laboratory of human experience, Chinese practitioners were able to test various remedies, losing much of the so-called magic as they improved their knowledge of medicine. But they made progress without using dissection, which was forbidden in Chinese society. As a result, TCM's anatomy is more figurative than literal and does not correspond to the body in ways that Westerners expect.

Through experimentation, they built a complex and rich tradition that extends to acupuncture, acupressure, Qigong, and Tai Chi. New methods of care were developed and systematically inscribed in their vast materia medica, the encyclopedic volumes listing TCM remedies.

From this combination of philosophy and trial and error, Chinese practitioners developed a holistic approach to treating patients that is all too often lacking in the West. By learning more about human nature and emphasizing harmony and balance as the source of good health, they were able not just to treat an illness, but to teach the patient about the importance of good nutrition, preventive remedies, and a balanced outlook on life that would help prevent disease from recurring.

Contemporary practitioners of Chinese medicine will begin much the same

way Chinese physicians did thousands of years ago: watching, asking questions, observing the tongue and the skin, assessing personality traits, and listening carefully to the patient before making a diagnosis and devising a treatment.

Today we know that Traditional Chinese Medicine offers many practical and long proven safe remedies to some of our most common ailments. Over the last generation, we've seen a number of these practices gain widespread respect in the West for the benefits they offer everyone the world over. Chinese physicians' work on nutrition plays an important role in Chinese medicine, and we're seeing a growing number of independent clinical studies back up their claims. In addition, we're routinely discovering new uses for TCM that would surprise even an ancient practitioner.

The growing confidence in this field in the West has led to important attitudinal shifts in the uses of Chinese medicine. While Westerners were glad to begin using Chinese remedies for conditions like the flu, allergies, or menstrual cramps, only recently have we begun to see the possibilities in acute cases, such as heavy bleeding, appendicitis, and dangerously high fevers.

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