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Published: 7 January 2022

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) & Acupuncture

What Is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?

Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM is comprised of acupuncture, Chinese herbology, massage, exercise, and nutritional therapy. TCM originated roughly 3000 years ago, and today is used by a quarter of the world's population.

Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on the concept of Qi (pronounced chee) which is the life force or vital energy. Qi is the animating force that serves to warm us, protect us from external pathogenic factors, promote the functions of the body and hold our organs and tissues in place.

In a broader sense, TCM is also based on the idea of yin and yang. These terms refer to a conceptual framework that comes from observing and analyzing the natural world. They relate to an opposite but complementary relationship between phenomenon.

Examples of yin/yang are cold/hot, night/day, dark/light. In traditional Chinese medicine, there must be a harmonious balance between yin and yang and a smooth flow of qi throughout the body for good health to exist. Simply put, a disharmony between yin and yang and a disturbance in the flow of qi may result in disease.

The goal of traditional Chinese medicine is to guide the body back into balance. Traditional Chinese medicine is holistic; it treats the whole person (mind, body, spirit), not just the illness.


Qi travels along specific pathways that cover the body called meridians. Each pathway is associated with a particular physiological system and internal organ. Acupuncture allows Qi to flow to areas where it is deficient and away from where it is in excess. If qi is blocked or obstructed in its flow, pain will occur.

Acupuncture regulates and restores the harmonious energetic balance of the body, therefore pain or illness will be resolved. Acupuncture points are places along the meridians near the body's surface where qi can be manipulated by the insertion of acupuncture needles.

There are hundreds of acupuncture points and each point has a predictable therapeutic effect. Problems can be addressed by needling points close to and distant from the problem being treated because the meridians run throughout the body. For example, a headache may be treated by placing needles in the head, hands, and feet.

Acupuncture needles are very thin, smooth, and flexible—about the thickness of human hair. They have no resemblance to an injection with a hypodermic needle since the main source of pain from injections is from the large bore hollow needle and the medication being forced into the tissues by pressure.

Ordinarily, upon insertion of an acupuncture needle, people will experience varying sensations. This ranges from no pain at all, to a slight pinch, a feeling of heaviness, warmth, and achiness, or possibly tingling and an electric sensation during treatment. The needles are retained for 20-45 minutes and people often become deeply relaxed and sometimes even fall asleep. After needle removal, you may feel energized, sleepy or lighter. You may notice immediate improvement of your symptoms.

The needles used at Acupuncture Clinic in London are high quality, individually packaged, disposable, and sterile. Every needle is used only once and discarded after treatment.

The number of acupuncture treatments depends on the duration, severity, and nature of your problem. An acute condition may require only a single treatment. A series of 5 to 15 treatments may be necessary for many chronic problems. Some degenerative conditions may need many treatments and long-term maintenance.

The acupuncture treatment can be accompanied by other modalities, such as:

Moxibustion—the burning of mugwort leaves, held a few inches from the body to bring warmth to the body.
Cupping —glass cups that create a suction on the skin.
Electroacupunture —a mild electrical stimulation of acupuncture points that reduces pain and speeds recovery from injuries.
Massage —Tuina or Chinese massage, shiatsu and acupressure.

Chinese Herbology

Chinese herbal medicine is as ancient as acupuncture and is a major aspect of Traditional Chinese medicine. Acupuncture treatments are best combined with Chinese herbs. Herbs enhance and augment the therapeutic effects of acupuncture treatment. They are something you can take at home to support your healing between acupuncture treatments. Of course, herbs can be prescribed and taken on their own without having to have acupuncture treatments.

Herbs are used especially to strengthen and build the body's constitution in deficient, weakened conditions. In addition, they also have many other actions on the body, such as helping to quickly fight a cold or stop bleeding, eliminate abdominal bloating, or relieving constipation, as a few examples.

There are thousands of herbs in the Chinese pharmacopeia, consisting of plants, minerals, and animal products. Chinese herbs are usually combined into formulas containing anywhere from 3 to 20 herbs. These combinations are designed to augment the actions or to ameliorate the adverse effects of certain herbs in the formula.

Herbal formulas are available in a number of forms.

Other Considerations of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine is a general medicine. This means it is beneficial for a wide range of conditions. It is a catalyst for your body's innate healing ability.

What conditions does traditional Chinese medicine treat?

Below are some examples:

Colds and flu
Addiction: smoking/alcohol/drugs
Arthritis/back pain/sciatica
Digestive disorders
High blood pressure
Immune enhancement
Infertility - read more about acupuncture for infertility
Menopause - read more about acupuncture for menopause
Pain and injury
PMS/menstrual problems
Skin disorders

A traditional Chinese medicine diagnosis is arrived at by interviewing the patient, checking the pulse, looking at the tongue, and inspecting the body. From these procedures, the practitioner discerns patterns of disharmony and determines a course of treatment.

Each person is unique and gets his or her own unique diagnosis. Therefore, the acupuncture treatment and herbal prescription will be tailor-made depending on your diagnosis. Ten different people can present with a migraine headache and each one may be treated differently, depending on their other signs and symptoms and health history.

Where Western medicine is often at a loss, traditional Chinese medicine excels at treating chronic or degenerative problems. At the other end of the spectrum, traditional Chinese medicine can be used preventively to keep you in balance. For instance, if you have a tendency to catch colds or the flu frequently, regular acupuncture treatments and supplementing with specific Chinese herbs can lead to a reduction or cessation of those episodes. For health maintenance, some people like to come in for a "tune-up" anywhere from 2 weeks to every 3 months, around the change of the seasons.

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