Facts About Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Learn More About the Fundamentals of This Ancient Integrative Medical Practice

Complementary traditional Chinese medicine has been gaining lots of attention in recent years, and even if you are not sure what the essentials are, you have probably heard of some TCM practices. This ancient wisdom of natural healing is based on the concept that the human body can be only treated as a whole – the body, emotions, mind, and spirit. The goal is to create or restore Qi balance in the body in order to achieve and maintain well-being and healthy condition. TCM has been evolving for more than 2,000 years in the Far East, and it includes various practices, such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, cupping, tai chi, meditation and moxibustion. You have probably tried acupuncture before, signed up for a tai chi class, or taken herbal medicine like ginger.

In this article, we will reveal what traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is. We will explore its origins, the treatments it includes, how it can help you maintain your health, and other relevant information so that you can have a clear understanding of what this ancient medicine is.

The Definition: What Is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?

Traditional Chinese medicine is an old holistic approach of treating illnesses naturally. It is based on the yin and yang principle of opposing energies. When these two energies are balanced, you feel vital and relaxed. However, when they are not balanced, it can negatively influence your health.

According to TCM, everyone has life force or vital energy in the body, known as Qi (pronounced “chee”). In order for the yin and yang to be in balance, and for you to be healthy, Qi flow must be restored and balanced. When Qi is not flowing freely, or when it’s blocked, illnesses occur.

Key purpose of traditional Chinese medicine is stimulating the natural flow of Qi, and balancing yin and yang to promote good physical and emotional health.

How It Works – Two Main Principles of TCM

Unlike Western medicine which treats symptoms of the disease, Eastern medicine is focused on healing the body as a whole and promotes harmony, nature, and balance.

There are two main principles behind traditional Chinese medicine:

  • Qi (pronounced as “chee”), also known as ‘life energy,’ is believed to run throughout the body. Qi is not a constant. Rather, it is an ever-changing energy, always on the move, whose flow should be uninterrupted and free, s that it can heal the body.
  • Yin and Yang energies represent relatively opposite aspects of Qi. Yin represents qualities relatively material, solid, heavy, substantial, cold, moist, dark, passive, and female. Yang is immaterial, amorphous, hollow, light, hot, dry, bright, aggressive, active, male.

Eastern medicine believes that harmony and balance of yin, yang, and the Qi will successfully treat illnesses, and improve your overall well-being. Compared to Western medicine, which treats diseases with drugs, TCM prioritizes wholeness.

The Origins Of Ancient Holistic Approach

The earliest records of the theory and practice of herbal medicine and acupuncture are found in classical Chinese texts and revised throughout many centuries. When Chinese immigrants resettled to the United States, they brought this ancient medicine doctrine with them. Although they have utilized it since the mid-19th century, the majority of US residents did not know about its existence or benefits until the late 20th century. It was only around 1970s when traditional Chinese medicine gained significant popularity after a New York Post reporter wrote newspaper articles about his own experience and the benefits of acupuncture for treating pain. After that, Oriental medicine became a major alternative medicine worldwide.

Understanding Different TCM Practices

What’s important to understand is that Western World treats traditional Chinese medicine as a complementary therapy only, and not as a stand-alone or substitute medicine. It is believed that further research is needed to prove its healing powers, while its benefits to overall wellness and well-being are widely recognized. East Asian medicine is a wonderful tool for promoting underlying healing by using movement, herbal, food, or acupuncture therapies.

Here are some of the most used traditional Chinese medicine approaches:


Acupuncture is a technique of inserting very thin, disposable needles through the skin into specific, vital  points in the body. This technique stimulates the nerves and the release of your body’s natural painkillers for relieving disease symptoms and restoring the balance of Qi (“life force”) and body functions. This holistic, drug-free method is well known for reducing pain, which is why more and more doctors are recommending acupuncture as a complementary treatment.

The main idea behind acupuncture (and acupressure) is that your body’s vitality and wellness relies on energy, or Qi. Qi flows through the invisible energy system made up of meridians (channels). This channel network links organs and nerves with your consciousness. Typically, there are 12 major meridians which are connected to 12 vital organs in your body, and each of with multiple acupuncture points along the meridians. In acupuncture, inserting needles stimulates smooth flow of Qi through meridians, by correcting imbalances or alleviating blockages. Along the meridians and throughout your body, there are hundreds of acupuncture points. Administering needles to these acupoints ultimately improves your overall well-being.

Acupuncture is used to treat various issues, or help in recovery, such as:

  • Infertility
  • Stroke recovery
  • Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s disease
  • Hyper- and Hypothyroidism, blood pressure
  • Infertility, endometriosis, hormone imbalance
  • And many more conditions

Acupuncture can be supplemented with some other approaches, such as:

Moxibustion, or heat therapy, where an acupuncturist burns Moxa plant wood sticks at acupoints, to boost energy flow.

Gua sha is a form of massage that improves blood flow and circulation. This technique is performed by using a smooth-edged tool to massage and scrape the skin and encourage cell repair and healing.

Ear seeds is a form of auriculotherapy where pressure is applied to acupoints on your ears by using tiny metal balls or seeds. To keep them in place, the practitioner with attach them with a bandage.


Cupping is another popular Oriental medicine holistic therapy, which is aimed at promoting free flow of Qi by removing blockages and improving blood movement. Small plastic or glass cups are first heated or manually placed on your skin to create suction. This method pulls on your skin, lifts the muscles, and opens tiny blood vessels. As a result, blood flow is increased in that specific area and your body is starting to heal itself.

In recent years, cupping has become very popular in treating the following problems:

  • Arthritis
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Knee and shoulder pain
  • Back and neck pain
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) disorders
  • Breathing problems, including Asthma
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)

Chinese Herbs

The ancient oriental herbal therapy involves using herbs and herbal formulas to treat diseases, improve organ function and overall health. Trained herbal practitioners create custom-tailored formulas which  improve not only your physical and chemical balance but also your body’s energy. These herbal blends can be made into capsules, liquid tinctures or formulas.

The main difference between conventional and Chinese medicine is that Western medicine typically prescribes medication treating single, specific effects. In TCM, on the other hand, each herb in the blend has its role in healing.

Chinese herbal therapy is most commonly used for the following:

  • Various allergies
  • Immune system boost
  • Problems with digestion
  • Fertility issues
  • Menopause and cancer treatment side effects
  • Menstrual pain
  • Autoimmune disorders

Tai Chi

Tai Chi, also known as “shadow boxing” or “meditation in motion”, is a form of martial art exercise involving gentle movements, postures, relaxation, mental focus and deep breathing. It can be practiced by people of all ages and ability levels. Slow movements are supposed to restore and balance your Qi’s flow and improve your physical and mental health.

Research has shown that tai chi practice can help with the following:

  • Improves Parkinson’s disease side effects (balance and stability)
  • Knee pain relief
  • Helps alleviate fibromyalgia pain
  • Cancer related symptoms
  • Improves mood, reduces depression
  • Boosts thinking skills and memory
  • Reducing high blood pressure


Qigong (pronounced “chi gong”, translates as “to work with Qi”) evolved thousands of years ago and it represents a set of simple exercises for improving body, soul, and mind condition. These exercises involve simple poses and breathing techniques used to optimize Qi flow and prevent blockages.

Regular Qigong exercise can be very powerful in healing certain conditions:

  • Hypertension
  • Anxiety, stress and depression
  • Reduces chronic pain
  • Improves quality of life for cancer patients
  • Boosts immune system
  • Improves fitness level

What Should I Expect On My First Visit To A Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner?

A visit to a TCM therapist will be quite different than a visit to your conventional doctor, and here is what you can expect on your first visit.

You will be asked a lot of questions about your medical history, sleep patterns, fitness, stress levels, family history, etc. The initial consultation will be followed by a physical exam, which will involve observation of your complexion (skin), tongue, hair, eye brightness, and 6 pulses on each of your wrists. Furthermore, by listening to the tone of your voice, the therapist will assess the condition of your spirit (“Shen”).

After a thorough initial consultation and initial exam, a combination of traditional Chinese medicine practices will be recommended to you, which will help in healing process and achieving overall good health and well-being.

Is Traditional Chinese Medicine Safe?

Traditional Chinese medicine is considered safe if you are seeing a licensed and certified TCM practitioner. While this is true for cupping, tai chi, acupuncture, and moxibustion, you should be extra careful with herbal therapy. Herbs can be tricky because they do not undergo the same FDA inspections and restrictions such as regular drugs. In order to avoid unnecessary side effects, make sure you go to a licensed herbalist and always confirm with your doctor prior to seeing a TCM therapist.

How Do I Find A Licensed TCM Practitioner?

If you are interested in trying Ancient medicine to treat any of your underlying conditions, make sure you find a qualified and certified therapist. You can either ask your family doctor for recommendations, or search the National Certification Commission For Acupuncture And Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM)

TCM Takeaway: Healing The Mind, The Body, And The Soul

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a set of ancient healing therapies aimed at targeting and treating your overall condition – the body, the spirit, and the mind. Throughout history, it has been used as a complementary approach, along with conventional medicine. It is known to bring countless benefits to humans, such as relaxation, peace, health, and wellness. The main principle is that illness is not just a physical state, rather it is linked to both your emotional and psychological state. Currently, there are dozens of TCM training programs in the United States, and people are embracing its benefits more than ever. Contact your GP to see how you can best utilize this ancient healing technique.

Frequently Asked Questions

What will my doctor think of TCM?

Since traditional Chinese medicine has been gaining more popularity, more research has been done to verify its effectiveness in treating certain conditions. And although some TCM practices are still inconclusive according to conventional medicine, lots of practices have been proven useful and their healing powers confirmed. Your doctor will recommend any complementary therapy that can help your treat the disease better and faster. Your GP can also suggest which qualified TCM practitioners you should see.

Which Individuals Should Avoid Traditional Chinese Medicine?

Typically, Oriental medicine is used as a complementary practice alongside conventional therapies prescribed by your doctor. It is not considered a substitute for western medicine therapy, particularly if you suffer from serious conditions, such as cancer or liver diseases. Be cautious if considering TCM (especially herbal therapy) with caution if you are:

  • An elderly person
  • A child
  • Awaiting surgery (certain herbal blends could prevent other medication from working)
  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Are taking other medication

Who Should Consider Undergoing Traditional Chinese Therapy?

Whether you should or should not use eastern medicine depends solely on you. People have been using TCM for all sorts of conditions, from stress, and inducing labor, to treating heart disease and obesity. Furthermore, it would probably be a good decision to try East Asian practice in the following cases:

  • Conventional medicine is not effective
  • Use it as a prevention against variety of issues
  • Treating drugs side effects
  • You have numerous symptoms, without the cause

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