Traditional Chinese Medicine dates back over 2,000 years. It is a complete system of medicine with its own forms of diagnosis, treatment, prognosis and therapies. TCM views the body as an energetic system in dynamic balance. The TCM approach is fundamentally different from that of Western medicine. In TCM, the understanding of the human body is based on the holistic understanding of the universe as described in Daoism, and the treatment of illness is based primarily on the diagnosis and differentiation of syndromes. The clinical diagnosis and treatment in Traditional Chinese Medicine are mainly based on the yin-yang and five elements theories. These theories apply the phenomena and laws of nature to the study of the physiological activities and pathological changes of the human body and its interrelationships. The typical TCM therapies include acupuncture, herbal medicine, and Qi Gong exercises. With acupuncture, treatment is accomplished by stimulating certain areas of the external body. Herbal medicine acts on zang-fu organs internally, while Qi Gong tries to restore the orderly information flow inside the network through the regulation of Qi. 

While theoretically TCM may sound like a foreign language, in reality the ancient Chinese doctors were very pragmatic in their approach to identifying and treating disease. Observing the world around them, the diagnostic system recognizes influences, externally and internally, which cause disharmony. It is a comprehensive medical science rooted in thousands of years of development and experience. The goal of TCM is to restore natural homeostatic mechanisms of healing and health maintenance. It is the goal of TCM to restore healthy tissues and bodily function by itself or as an adjunct to allopathic medicine. 

TCM is acknowledged as a proven evidence-based medical science by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Institute of Health (NIH), both of which have worked to create an accepted worldwide evidence-based set of guidelines for the practice of this complementary medicine. Currently in the U.S. the National Institutes of Health highlights acupuncture as an important part of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). TCM is a mind-body medicine with a patient-centered approach.

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Acupuncture involves the use of filaments, thin sterile needles, that are placed strategically around the body to promote healing and balance in your life. In a traditional view, the needles clear energy blockages and encourage normal flow of qi through the individual. Acupuncturists use channel theory to stimulate specific points and channels that are needed for each individual person. Acupuncture can be used for pain relief, insomnia, headaches, infertility, skin issue, gastrointestinal issues and much, much more.

In a more modern and demistifying view, one of the theories of its efficacy is its ability to activate several signaling systems and feedback loops, one of them being the nervous system. The nervous system, with over 30 peptides involved in transmitting signals, is connected to the hormonal system via the adrenal gland, and it makes connections to every cell and system in the body. Acupuncture is a stimulus directed at certain parts of the nervous system. Acupuncture is wonderful at relieving pain, reducing inflammation and restoring homeostasis. 

Recent research has shown acupuncture to; promote blood flow, stimulate the body's built in healing mechanisms, release natural pain killers, reduce both the intensity and perception of chronic pain, relax shortened muscles, reduce stress and more. With more and more research being done, the biochemical mechanisms behind acupuncture are further being discovered and explored.  

As a form of natural healing, acupuncture has the following benefits:

  • provides drug-free pain relief

  • effectively treats a wide range of acute and chronic ailments

  • treats the underlying cause of disease and illness as well as the symptoms

  • provides an holistic approach to the treatment of disease and illness, linking body, mind and emotions

  • assists in the prevention against disease and illness as well as the maintenance of general well-being

Acupuncture is known for treating the following conditions:

  • Neurological conditions such as headaches, migraines, difficulty sleeping, nervous tension, stroke, some forms of deafness, facial and inter-costal neuralgia, trigeminal neuralgia, some forms of paralysis, sequelae of poliomyelitis, peripheral neuropathy,noises in the ears, dizziness, and Meniere's disease.
  • Cardiovascular disorders such as high or low blood pressure, fluid retention, chest pain, angina pectoris, poor circulation, cold hands and feet, and muscle cramps.
  • Respiratory conditions such as bronchial asthma, acute and chronic bronchitisacute tonsillitis, rhinitis, sinusitis, hay fever, chronic cough, laryngitis, sore throat, influenza and the common cold.
  • Digestive system disorders such as toothache, post-extraction pain, gingivitis, mouth ulcers, hiccough, spasms of the oesophagus, gastric and duodenal ulcers, gastric hyperacidity, gastritis, heartburn, hiatus hernia syndrome, flatulence, paralytic ileus, colitis, diarrhoea, constipation, haemorrhoids, liver and gall bladder disorders, and weight control.
  • Urogenital disorders such as cystitis, prostatitis, orchitis, low sexual vitality, urinary retention, kidney disorders, nocturnal enuresis, and neurogenic bladder dysfunction.
  • Gynaecological and obstetric disorders such as premenstrual tension, painful, heavy or irregular, or the absence of periods, abnormal uterine bleeding or discharge, hormonal disturbances, disorders associated with menopause, prolapse of the uterus or bladder, difficulty with conception, and morning sickness.
  • Skin conditions such as eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis, nerve rash, herpes zoster, acne, scar tissue and resultant adhesions, hair loss and dandruff.
  • Eye conditions such as visual disorders, red, sore, itchy or watery eyes, conjunctivitis, simple cataracts, myopia in children, and central retinitis.
  • Musculoskeletal disorders such as osteoarthritis, sciatica, lumbago, weak back, low back pain, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, tenosynovitis, shoulder and neck pain, cervicobrachial syndrome, 'frozen shoulder', and 'tennis elbow'.
  • Sports injuries such as sprained ankles and knees, cartilage problems, corking and tearing of muscles, torn ligaments and bruises.
  • Psychological conditions such as depression, phobias, emotional disturbances, anxiety, nervousness and addictions such as smoking.

* The disorders above which appear in bold have been recognised by the World Health Organisation (December 1979) as having been successfully treated by acupuncture. The disorders which do not appear in bold above are other common disorders which have been found to respond well to acupuncture.

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The origins of Chinese herbal medicine in China can be traced back at least 5000 years, making it one of the oldest and most long-standing health care systems in the world.

In the intervening millennia, the practice of Chinese herbal medicine and TCM has developed and matured to become what it is today - a natural and holistic system of primary health care that is being used by people from a wide range of cultural and social backgrounds to effectively treat a wide range of chronic and acute health problems.

Today, there are more than 450 substances commonly used in Chinese Herbal medicine--most are of plant origin though some animal and mineral substances may also be used. You may find some in your kitchen, such as ginger, garlic and cinnamon, while others such as chrysanthemum and peony flowers are more likely to be found in your garden. Many of the substances used will be unfamiliar to you and have names like chai hu (bupleurum), di huang (rehmannia), and huang qi (astragalus). Some substances that were used traditionally are no longer part of modern professional Chinese herbal medicine practice. For example, traditional remedies that are derived from endangered species have been replaced by other substances with similar actions. 

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Gua Sha:

Gua sha is a healing technique of traditional East Asian medicine. Sometimes called ‘coining, spooning or scraping'. Raising sha removes blood stagnation considered pathogenic in traditional East Asian medicine. Modern research shows the transitory therapeutic petechiae produce an anti-inflammatory and immune protective effect that persists for days following a single Gua Sha treatment accounting for the immediate relief that patients feel from pain, stiffness, fever, chill, cough, wheeze, nausea and vomiting etc, and why Gua sha is effective in acute and chronic internal organ disorders including liver inflammation in hepatitis. 

Gua sha can be used anywhere over the body but is typically applied at the back, neck, shoulders, chest, abdomen, buttocks and limbs. Gua sha is also applied over the joints but not without first treating the channels that supply a joint area. 


Cupping is the term applied to a technique that uses small glass cups or bamboo jars as suction devices that are placed on the skin. There are several ways that a practitioner can create the suction in the cups. One method involves swabbing rubbing alcohol onto the bottom of the cup, then lighting it and putting the cup immediately against the skin. Suction can also be created by placing an inverted cup over a small flame, or by using an alcohol-soaked cotton pad over an insulating material (like leather) to protect the skin, then lighting the pad and placing an empty cup over the flame to extinguish it. Flames are never used near the skin and are not lit throughout the process of cupping, but rather are a means to create the heat that causes the suction within the small cups.

Once the suction has occurred, the cups can be gently moved across the skin (often referred to as "gliding cupping). The suction in the cups causes the skin and superficial muscle layer to be lightly drawn into the cup. Cupping is much like the inverse of massage - rather than applying pressure to muscles, it uses gentle pressure to pull them upward. For most patients, this is a particularly relaxing and relieving sensation. Once suctioned, the cups are generally left in place for about ten minutes while the patient relaxes. This is similar to the practice of Tui Na, a traditional Chinese medicine massage technique that targets acupuncture points as well as painful body parts, and is well known to provide relief through pressure.

Generally, cupping is combined with acupuncture in one treatment, but it can also be used alone. The suction and negative pressure provided by cupping can loosen muscles, encourage blood flow, and sedate the nervous system (which makes it an excellent treatment for high blood pressure). Cupping is used to relieve back and neck pains, stiff muscles, anxiety, fatigue, migraines, rheumatism, and even cellulite. For weight loss and cellulite treatments, oil is first applied to the skin, and then the cups are moved up and down the surrounding area.

This treatment is also valuable for the lungs, and can clear congestion from a common cold or help to control a person's asthma. In fact, respiratory conditions are one of the most common maladies that cupping is used to relieve. Three thousand years ago, in the earliest Chinese documentation of cupping, it was recommended for the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis.


A  technique that involves the burning of mugwort, a small, spongy herb, to facilitate healing. Moxibustion has been used throughout Asia for thousands of years; in fact, the actual Chinese character for acupuncture, translated literally, means "acupuncture-moxibustion." The purpose of moxibustion, as with most forms of traditional Chinese medicine, is to strengthen the blood, stimulate the flow of qi, and maintains general health.

Moxibustion is used on people who have a cold or stagnant condition. The burning of moxa is believed to expel cold and warm the meridians, which leads to smoother flow of blood and qi. In Western medicine, moxibustion has successfully been used to turn breech babies into a normal head-down position prior to childbirth. A landmark study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1998 found that up to 75% of women suffering from breech presentations before childbirth had fetuses that rotated to the normal position after receiving moxabustion at an acupuncture point on the Bladder meridian. Other studies have shown that moxabustion increases the movement of the fetus in pregnant women, and may reduce the symptoms of menstrual cramps when used in conjunction with traditional acupuncture. Research has shown that it acts as an emmenagogue that is, an agent that increases blood circulation to the pelvic area and uterus and stimulates menstruation. This could explain its use in treating breech births and menstrual cramps. 


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Nutrition is a major aspect of Traditional Chinese Medicine, being one of the core foundations of a healthy lifestyle. You eat every day, and it's important to make sure what you put in your mouth is something your body actually wants and needs.

Chinese medicine is able to categorize foods into a simple system, teaching a balanced method to the "Health food madness". Nutrition can be confusing, scary and downright annoying at times. Don't worry, the Ancient Chinese have your back!

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Is it safe?

Acupuncture and TCM is one of the safest medicines in the world, with side effects being extremely rare-- especially when done by a licensed acupuncturist. The most common side effect is occasional bruising around an acupuncture treatment site. Only sterile, one time use needles are used and immediately disposed of after the treatment. Most people are surprised at how thin the needles are, where as many as 40 acupuncture needles can fit into one standard hypodermic needle (the same needles they use to draw blood).

Is it effective, and does it last?

YES. "Modern research shows that acupuncture can affect most of the body's systems--the nervous system, muscle tone, hormone outputs, circulation, antibody production and allergic responses, as well as the respiratory, digestive, urinary and reproductive."
- British Medical Acupuncture Society 

As far as the long lasting effects of acupuncture, one study showed improvements after a series of acupuncture treatments to last the length of the study---at least 3 years.

Will it help me specifically?

As with any medicine, acupuncture is not a panacea or cure-all. Research has found that approximately 50% of people are good responders to acupuncture. 30% are high or super-responders and 20% are low or non-responders. It may take 3 to 4 treatments to determine your particular response rate and pattern. 

The number of treatments for a specific condition varies from person to person. Some people experience significant improvement after one or two treatments, while others may take weeks or months to achieve lasting results. Chronic conditions generally take longer than acute ones, and the longer a patient has a condition, the longer it usually takes to resolve. Other factors that influence the number of treatments needed include the severity of the problem and the patient's lifestyle, overall health and consultation.

In some chronic conditions, a maintenance schedule may be worked out with your acupuncturist. 

What does it treat?

Chinese medicine can treat a variety of diseases and illness, with the World Health Organization claiming its effectiveness in over 100 conditions. Acupuncture has been shown to be extremely effective with chronic pain, reducing inflammation, reestablishing homeostasis and more. For more information on what acupuncture can do, read my blog!

How does it work?

The practice of inserting the needles underneath the skin is relatively simple, but the answer to how it works is quite complex. The short answer is no one truly knows exactly how it works. Acupuncture is the most scientifically studied manual therapy in the world, and a large variety of scientific studies documents many different mechanisms to the actions of acupuncture. Much research has shown that not only is there a localized response, but significant modulation in the central nervous system. Neuroimaging studies with functional MRI, PET scans, electroencephalography, and magnetoencephalography have provided abundant proof of specific modulating effects in the brain, brainstem and spinal cord from acupuncture stimulation at peripheral points. But the answer to the question of how acupuncture works is even more complicated than this, considering that the practice of acupuncture is part of a larger medicine of TCM, which may incorporate a dozen or so treatment modalities---including herbs, massage, moxibustion, cupping, guan ha, electrical stimulation, nutrition therapy, etc. 

As I have said before, the mechanisms behind acupuncture can be quite complex for such a simple therapy, however as more and more research is being done, the more we are learning about its amazing benefits.

View my blog for further research on acupuncture and TCM!

Does it hurt?

A common assumption about acupuncture is that it hurts---you are getting stuck with needles after all. Fear of pain and fear of needles is one of the biggest reasons why people choose not to seek treatment. To the astonishment of many folks, acupuncture usually does not hurt. However, no pain does not mean no sensation. Most of the time acupuncture produces some kind of sensation at the site of needling. This moment when the patient feels the needle at the site of the point is called de qi. De qi is a good thing---the needles are doing their job. 5 common acupuncture sensations are heavy, achy, warm, tingly and very rarely electric. 

For more information, read this article!

What is this Qi that you talk so much about?

There is no direct translation for the word "qi" and is an often discussed and argued concept in the world of Chinese Medicine. Many practitioners relate the concept of qi to being the same as energy, while others believe it has more to do with oxygen, blood and lymph than a concept of energy. 

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