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Chinese Medicine: A Brief History
Chinese Medicine: The Experience

Chinese Medicine – also known as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Oriental Medicine – describes a form of medicine that incorporates acupuncture, herbal therapy, bodywork, and nutritional and lifestyle counseling. It is a medical system that has diagnosed, treated and prevented disease for more than 3,000 years. It includes a range of traditional medicine practices originating in China. Although well accepted in the mainstream of medical care throughout East Asia, it is considered an alternative medical system in much of the Western world.

Chinese Medicine is a holistic approach to treatment that seeks to restore harmony and balance in the body. It is largely based on the philosophical concept that the human body is a small universe with a set of complete and sophisticated interconnected systems, and that those systems usually work in balance to maintain the healthy function of the human body. Clinical diagnosis and treatment in 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. One of the most important things assessed during the diagnostic process in Chinese medicine is the flow of qi (pronounced “chee”) in the meridians. Qi is the energy of all physiological, emotional and spiritual activity within our bodies. It circulates throughout the body in a system of channels and collaterals (known collectively as meridians).

This system of medicine has a unique model of the body, notably concerned with the meridian system. Unlike the Western anatomical model, which divides the physical body into parts, the Chinese model is more concerned with function. Thus, the TCM spleen is not a specific piece of flesh, but an aspect of function related to transformation and transportation within the body, and of the mental functions of thinking and studying.

Typical Chinese Medicine therapies include:

  • Acupuncture – For good health, qi must be balanced throughout the body. When that energy flow is excessive, deficient or blocked, your health is disrupted and you can become ill or feel pain. Hair-thin, disposable needles are inserted into specific points along defined meridians to redirect the flow of qi and return the body to balance. During the past 25 years, acupuncture has become increasingly popular in the United States as an alternative to traditional Western medicine for a wide variety of conditions. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) lists 41 diseases, including allergies, asthma, digestive disorders, respiratory ailments and various types of pain, which acupuncture may alleviate. A growing trend in sports medicine is the use of acupuncture to relieve the swelling and pain of joint injuries in professional and amateur athletes. Acupuncture is being widely practiced by thousands of physicians, dentists, acupuncturists and other practitioners for relief or prevention of pain and for various other health conditions. According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, an estimated 3.1 million U.S. adults and 150,000 children had used acupuncture in the previous year.
  • Herbal medicine – Chinese herbs are seen as supplements that can strengthen you and re-harmonize imbalances in the body. More than 250 Chinese herbs are commonly used. Rather than being prescribed individually, single herbs are combined into formulas designed to adapt to the specific needs of individual patients. Unlike Western herbalism, Chinese herbal medicine uses many animal, mineral and mineraloid remedies, and it also uses more products from marine sources. The National Institutes of Health is now sponsoring research on Chinese herbs and other TCM techniques for treating conditions ranging from osteoarthritis of the knee to irritable bowel syndrome. “Adding herbs to acupuncture treatments can add additional benefits in reinforcing therapeutic results for acute and severe problems,” says Mei Wang, Ph.D., TCMD, L.Ac, who specializes in herbal medicine in the Twin Cities. “For example, it will decrease the chance of needing to use antibiotics for infections. Also, patients may find that it helps in relieving chronic problems, and that taking herbs daily will help in balancing their body.” Herbs can be taken as needed and won’t cause negative side effects, such as drowsiness.
  • Massage – A variety of massage practices are a part of Chinese Medicine. Cupping consists of using glass cups on the skin as a form of reverse-pressure massage. Tui na is a form of massage similar to acupressure. It is typically administered with the patient fully clothed, without the application of oils.
  • Moxibustion – “Moxa” is often used in conjunction with acupuncture. It involves the burning of Chinese herbs to warm the body and increase circulation.
  • Diet – Chinese medicine includes theories related to the function various types of food play in the body. A balanced diet, which leads to health, is when the five functional flavors are in balance. To balance a body that is diseased, certain foods and herbs are prescribed to restore balance to the body.
  • Exercise & Relaxation – Qigong exercises – such as T’ai chi, standing meditation and other Chinese martial arts – often are prescribed to promote body movement, as well as breathing and relaxation.

Traditional Chinese Medicine addresses the full range of human illness. While best known for treating chronic illnesses such as asthma, allergies, headaches, high blood pressure, gallbladder disease, lupus, diabetes and gynecological disorders, TCM also treats acute, infectious illness. Vast research is continuously being pursued in a wide range of TCM applications and reported on in scores of medical journals published around the world.

Dr. Jinming Yue, TCMD, L.Ac., a Twin Cities specialist who helps with pain management, emotional disorders, seasonal allergies and irritable bowel syndrome, says common ailments that are treated using Chinese medicine include emotional disorders, weight reduction and control, smoking cessation, infertility and seasonal allergies. “The benefit is that there are no side effects to be concerned about, and there is no recovery time from the treatment. This ancient art considers and balances the disease and the body at the same time.”

There are two business models for acupuncture in the United States. The most familiar consists of receiving acupuncture in a room by yourself on a massage table, and costs are anywhere from $50-100 per treatment. Some insurance covers acupuncture, but most insurance companies have very limited conditions that they will cover. To make acupuncture more affordable, Lisa Rohleder developed the community acupuncture business model three years ago. There are now 11 Community Acupuncture clinics in the Twin Cities, one in Duluth, and one in Winona, MN, and Spring Valley, WI, and an estimated 300 clinics in the United States, several in Canada and one in Israel. There is an organization in Great Britain that promotes a model similar to the Community Acupuncture clinics ( Acupuncturists find that this business model, with a much higher volume of patients, gives them vastly more experience, and patients like it because they are able to recline with needles for up to an hour or more and report getting better results.

There are a number of schools throughout the nation that teach Chinese Medicine. The principal ones in the Upper Midwest are: Minnesota College of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine at Northwestern Health Sciences University in Bloomington, MN; American Academy of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine in Roseville, MN; and Midwest College of Oriental Medicine
Master of Science in Oriental Medicine in Racine, WI.

Sources: Wikipedia, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine,,, Institute for Traditional Medicine, Northwestern Health Sciences University, Ann Mongeau, L.Ac., R.N.,



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