TCM: Common Treatments from a Practitioner

Updated: Jul 17

Welcome to this article series on Tradition 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:

  1. Introduction and Foundation

  2. The Five Elements Profiles

  3. Food and Cooking

  4. The Five Major Organs

  5. The Nine Body Constitutions

  6. The Body Clock

  7. Common Treatments from a Practitioner

  8. My Experience with TCM

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.

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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

  • emotional state

  • 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

  1. Acupuncture

  2. Tui Na Massage

  3. Moxibustion

  4. Cupping

  5. Gua Sha

  6. Herbal Medicine

  7. Food Therapy

  8. Meditative Exercise (Qi Gong and Tai Chi)

Next, let’s look at each treatment in more detail. Special thanks to TCM doctor Jason Chong for his detailed explanations on these treatments.

1: Acupuncture

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Acupuncture is very well-known in the world now. It is when the doctor inserts acupuncture needles on to 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

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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:

3: Moxibustion

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Moxibustion is a form of infrared heat therapy applied on to 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:

4: Cupping

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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.

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Light pink marks indicate healthy circulation, dark red marks indicate moderate stagnation, dark purple marks indicate sever stagnation, and pale purple marks indicate qi and blood deficiencies.

Here is a short video explaining cupping:

5: Gua Sha

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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