Complementary Therapy Features

Understanding Traditional Chinese Medicine

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Take a look in the window of any Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) clinic and usually you’ll see an impressive list of conditions that can be treated. Notably, they are often conditions that western medicine sometimes struggles to help, like back pain, depression, migraines and stress. TCM is based on a very different approach and if it’s not something you’re familiar with, it may help to understand the principles behind it.

How does TCM work?

A medical system that is over 3,000 years old, TCM is based on the principle that our health and wellbeing depends on the harmony of our energetic system, and on a healthy flow of Qi (energy) in our bodies. Practitioners use three main therapeutic methods: acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and Tui Na massage to restore balance and harmony.

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During acupuncture treatment, very fine needles are inserted in acu-points along the meridians, or energy channels, of the body, stimulating the body’s own healing response. It is particularly effective in treating pain and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified 91 conditions that can be treated with the technique, including back pain, depression, insomnia and female infertility.

Chinese Herbal Medicine

Practitioners of Chinese herbal medicine prescribe a combination of herbs to treat mainly internal conditions, including digestive and gynaecological disorders, and skin diseases such as eczema, psoriasis and acne. Before making a prescription, they will take your pulse and examine your tongue. In the UK, only plant-based products are allowed to be used.

Tui Na massage/Acupressure

Tui Na literally means push and grasp and this type of massage is very effective in easing muscle problems. It works in a similar way to acupuncture, and presses on points along the meridian system to restore the flow of Qi. Among other things, Tui Na is helpful in the treatment of headaches, neck and back pain, fatigue and stress.

TCM is a holistic system

One reason for choosing TCM is if you are looking for a more holistic style of treatment.

A TCM practitioner for over 27 years, Dr Tinjuan Wang says: ‘Holistic treatment is at the root of our philosophy. For example, if a patient comes to see me with infertility I look at all the possible causes. It may not only be a local problem with the uterus. It could be because of the balance of the Yin and Yang, the blood and the Qi or even because of stress. So we treat the patient as a whole, in a holistic way.’

Three key treatments

There are thousands of acupuncturists in the UK, many of whom solely practise acupuncture. TCM is a whole system which includes acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and Tui Na massage. Dr Wang explains: ‘This means that we can choose a comprehensive treatment for some of the more complex cases or we can choose one of them according the patient’s condition or the patient’s request.’

Most common conditions treated by TCM

Treatments are always tailored to the individual’s needs and will vary. But here is a rough guide to TCM’s approach to the most common conditions:

Back pain: In general, painful conditions are very responsive to acupuncture. Tui Na massage may be used as well as it helps to ease muscular problems.

Anxiety and depression: Acupuncture has a calming effect on the mind and can also help you to feel more positive and energised. It may be used in combination with herbs.

Headaches and migraine: A combination of acupuncture and Tui Na massage may be used to ease pain and relax the muscles.

Infertility and gynaecological conditions: Practitioners frequently use a combination of acupuncture and herbs, depending on the diagnosis.

Eczema: Chinese herbal medicine is often effective for skin disorders including eczema, psoriasis, acne and urticaria. Acupuncture may be used in addition to herbs.

Digestive disorders: IBS and constipation respond well to herbal medicine. If appropriate, Tui Na massage may be used as well.

Joint pain: Like back pain, acupuncture will usually be the primary treatment. Herbs are frequently used in addition to reduce inflammation.

• For more information read our article on how to find a trusted TCM practitioner.

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