Updated: Jul 6
Welcome to this article series on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The aim of this series is to provide you with foundational and practical knowledge of TCM that you can use to improve your own health at home in daily life. The recommendations in this series are simple, accessible, and mostly free. After all, good health should be something that is accessible to everyone!
Here is a clickable table of contents for this series:
This article is Part 7: Common Treatments from a Practitioner
In this series of articles on TCM, we’ve looked at how you can improve and maintain your health at home without spending any extra money through making better food choices and massaging acupoints. But there are times when people want to get help from an actual TCM doctor. You might be wondering what that experience will be like, and what treatments the TCM doctor might prescribe. This article will answer those questions.
When TCM doctors do consultations with patients, they will typically inspect the tongue and pulse, which was mentioned in the article on the nine constitutions. They would also ask you about
bowel movements and waste elimination
menstruation for women
what foods you’ve been eating
any other symptoms such as headaches, itchy skin, nausea, etc.
They want to get a whole picture understanding of your health. After that, they can try to pinpoint the root cause of your ill symptoms. Then based on that root cause, they will prescribe treatments such as
Next, let’s look at each treatment in more detail. Special thanks to TCM doctor Jason Chong for his detailed explanations on these treatments.
Acupuncture is very well-known in the world now. It is when the doctor inserts acupuncture needles into specific acupoints to make Qi and Blood flow more freely. The needles are usually as thin as hair, so they don’t hurt unless that acupoint has a problem; the pain indicates a blockage. But usually, inserting the needles will feel like a temporary “mosquito bite” prick that goes away quickly. The stimulation from the needles tell the body to focus its attention there for healing. Some people feel energized from the treatment, while others feel relaxed.
Acupuncture helps to restore health in the body, reduce pain, and relax the nervous system.
Here is a short video on acupuncture:
2: Tui Na Massage
Tui Na massage is very similar to acupuncture, except instead of using needles, it’s massaging the acupoints. The previous articles talked about massing acupoints at home; that’s basically doing Tui Na on yourself.
Getting Tui Na from a practitioner also means you get energy from that practitioner; this is really helpful for people who are already very weak. Tui Na is also helpful for muscle tension and soreness.
Here is a short video on Tui Na Massage:
Moxibustion is a form of infrared heat therapy applied onto acupoints by applying a burning herb called mugwart, which is usually rolled into small cylinders. Burning these mugwart cylinders sends pinpointed heat to an acupoint. Most people know about saunas which are another form of infrared heat therapy that is great for detox and stimulating energy movement. Moxibustion is similar.
Moxibustion is often used in conjunction with acupuncture since the heat provides extra stimulation to the acupoint. It is warming and promotes Qi and Blood circulation and strengthens immunity. At home, you can use microwavable heat bags and apply them onto acupoints. This is especially useful after massaging those acupoints yourself, but you can apply heat bags even if you didn’t massage the points.
Here is a short video explaining moxibustion:
Cupping is when the practitioner takes a cup and then lights a fire in the cup to burn away the oxygen, which creates a vacuum. Then the practitioner puts the cup on your body, and the vacuum draws your skin up into the cup. You can think of it as the opposite of a massage. A massage uses a pushing action, while Cupping uses a pulling action. This helps to draw out toxins deep in the muscle. It also improves Blood blow. It is also not painful and is actually quite relaxing.
Cupping is really great for muscle soreness, which is why lots of athletes use it. It also helps with Blood stagnation, dampness, and cold/flu symptoms.
Cupping leaves red marks, which may look scary, but they usually go away within a week. Since many athletes and celebrities have shown off their Cupping marks, more people are embracing Cupping.
Light pink marks indicate healthy circulation, dark red marks indicate moderate stagnation, dark purple marks indicate severe stagnation, and pale purple marks indicate Qi and Blood deficiencies.
Here is a short video explaining Cupping:
5: Gua Sha
Gua Sha is a massage that involves applying herbal oil over the skin and then scraping it with a Gua Sha tool such as a spoon or coin. This scraping provides a deep stretch and release of the body there, which improves Blood circulation, as well as flush away toxins that were stuck deep within the muscles.
The scraping does leave red marks similar to Cupping, and depending on your body’s condition, the marks will look different. It’s very relaxing, and the marks usually go away within a week.
Here’s a short video explaining Gua Sha:
6: Herbal Medicine
Chinese herbal medicine uses naturally occurring substances such as barks, seeds, fruits, flowers, roots, and leaves. Some common examples include cinnamon, ginger, ginseng, liquorice, goji berries, and chrysanthemum. The purpose of herbal medicine is to replenish nutrition, enhance digestion, and restore proper functioning of organs.
A TCM doctor can create a specific combination of herbs with a specific dosage for your specific condition. While you can buy herbs over the counter in a Chinese medicine shop, it’s best to consult a TCM doctor first.
Herbs are usually used in combination with other treatments that stimulate acupoints. Those treatments tell the body where to focus its energy, while the herbs provide the necessary energy and fuel to help the body heal.
7: Food Therapy
The TCM doctor would also give advice related to diet, which was covered in detail in article 3. That includes advice about food energies, flavors, and foods to avoid.
8: Qi Gong and Tai Chi
The TCM doctor might also prescribe some exercises to help your body with Qi circulation and Blood circulation. Exercise also has great benefits for our emotions and mental health too.
You can think of Qi Gong like the Chinese version of yoga. Fun fact: one of the benefits of stretching exercises like yoga and Qi gong is that it stretches your meridians, which improves Qi flow! Qi Gong involves doing breathing exercises, maintaining poses, and repeating movements. Qi Gong is practiced to improve health and spirituality.
Tai Chi is the martial arts version of Qi Gong. It is a meditative form of martial arts that nurtures a peaceful mind, a strong body, and a spiritual connection to nature.
Qi Gong is simpler to learn, just like how yoga is simpler to learn than martial arts, so your doctor might teach you some Qi Gong poses.
TCM doctors have many forms of treatments to help patients balance their problems. This article talked about eight main treatments:
Tui Na Massage
Meditative Exercise (Qi Gong and Tai Chi)
Many of these treatments help to unblock Qi via acupoints, such as acupuncture, Tui Na, and moxibustion. Cupping and Gua Sha help to remove toxins and stagnation in the muscle tissue. Herbs and diet therapy provide the energy and nutrients needed for the body to heal its acupoints. Exercises like Qi Gong and Tai Chi help to strengthen Qi and Blood circulation, as well as cultivate peaceful emotions, which are key to health. The next and final article will talk about my own experiences with TCM.