FAQs about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

What is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
and How does It Work?

TCM is the oldest continually practiced, literate professional medicine in the world. Over the past 2,500 years medical scholars in every age have contributed to the development and refinement of the art of medical healing in China. Today, Western Medicine and TCM are the two dominant medical systems in the world.

How does TCM work?

TCM takes a holistic approach to health. It works by reestablishing balance and harmony within the whole body. This means balance between QI, blood and body fluids; balance between Yin and Yang; balance between Five elements, and balance between the internal organs. Therefore, the practitioner begins by doing a TCM diagnosis to determine the patient’s individualized pattern of disharmony. Then, A personalized treatment plan is made.

How to determine balance?

  • TCM diagnose is made by four basic examinations.
  • Questioning about patient’s signs and symptoms, medical history and course of disease.
  • Visually inspecting patient’s face, body, especially tongue.
  • Listening to patient’s voice and the sound of breathing as well as smelling from patient’s body.
  • Palpating various area of the body, especially the pulse at both wrists.
    The practitioner can determine the pattern of disharmony by using combination of above four exams.

How to reestablish balance?

The main treatment methods are Chinese Herbal Medicine and Acupuncture. Chinese Herbal Medicine may be prescribed internally or applied externally. Acupuncture seeks to regulate the flow of Qi and blood within the body by inserting fine, sterile needles at certain acupuncture point (acupoint). If someone is too hot, TCM will try to cool him/her down, vise versa; If something is too much, TCM will try to reduce it.

What is TCM good to treat?

Generally speaking, Western Medicine is good at treating structural disorder; TCM is good at treating functional disorder. Furthermore, TCM is an effective choice at eh beginning stage of any disease or for diseases which Western Medicine either cannot understand or not effective to treat. TCM can also speed up the healing process by building the immunity.

Is TCM safe?

Yes. TCM is extremely safe when it is practiced correctly by trained, qualified professional practitioners. Most states in U.S. need acupuncture license to practice. Acupuncturists are also certified by NCCAOM (National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine), which requires over 2,500 hours of professional traing. Since TCM seeks to restore balance to the whole body, not just one or few piece(s) or part(s). Side effects caused by imbalance which needed to be corrected are minimal.


Questions & Answers About Acupuncture

Q: What is acupuncture?

A: Acupuncture is one of the major components of the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It inserts thin metallic needles into anatomically defined locations on the body to affect bodily function. The acupuncture points are called acupoints which correspond to areas on the surface of the body that have been shown to have greater electrical conductance due to the presence of a higher density of gap junctions along cell borders. A greater metabolic rate, temperature, and calcium ion concentration are also observed at these points.

Based on the experience and knowledge learned over the course of several thousand years, acupuncture practitioners have classified those acupoints into meridians by the effectiveness of those acupoints to different organs. There are 361 acupoints within 14 Meridian groups.

Q: How does acupuncture work?

A: Results from modern western medical research demonstrates acupuncture stimulating the nervous system to releases certain chemicals into the brain, spinal cord and muscles. These chemicals either reduce pain (such chemical is called endorphin, which is nearly 1,000 times stronger than morphine), or trigger the releasing of other chemicals such as hormones, which in the end influence the body’s own internal regulating system.

Q: Is acupuncture safe?

A: Acupuncture is extremely safe when practiced by a well-trained, licensed acupuncturist. Today, all licensed acupuncturist use disposable sterile needles. The chance of getting infection is minimal.

Q: Does it hurt?

A: Acupuncture needles have different sizes, usually not much thicker than a hair. The disposable needles come with individually packaged tubes, which makes needles clean and inserts into skin very quick before your nerve can sense the pain. That is why the insertion is usually painless. It does not feel like getting an injection. Then your acupuncturist will do little stimulation to make some heaviness, pressure or soreness sensation. In Chinese, such sensation is called “De Qi”, which means the needle starting to work. Most people find acupuncture treatment very relaxing, and even fall asleep during treatment.

Q: How many treatments will I need?

A: It varies according to the duration, severity, and type of complaint. you may need only a couple of treatments for acute muscle aches and pain, or acute sinusitis. Many chronic problems may need around 10 treatments. Some degenerative conditions may require even more treatments. Most people start once or twice treatments in one week, and gradually less often. Along with acupuncture treatment, your acupuncturist may suggest certain diet, specific stretch exercise, and/or Chinese herbs to increase the efficacy of acupuncture.

Q: How can I choose an acupuncturist?

A: In State of Indiana, it requires acupuncturist to pass National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) exam and to get Indiana state license to practice. The applicants to take NCCAOM exam should have attended the creditability schools for 4 years’ full time study with about 2,600 credit hours of Chinese Medical education, and finish 500 clinical hours to get a Master’s degree. Candidates must pass the five portions of exams, which are: Foundation of Oriental Medicine, Acupuncture, Point location, Biomedicine, and Chinese Herbology.

Q: Do I need to do something before receiving an acupuncture treatment?

A: Avoid treatment when extremely hungry, full , fatigue or shortly after sex, which may result in fainting.

Q: Do I need to do something during acupuncture treatment?

A: Just relax and not moving suddenly. Tell your acupuncturist if you are uncomfortable.

Q: Do I expect relieve right away?

A: Many patients start to feel relieve right after the initial treatment, and such good result can last from hours to days. As treatment goes on, most patients feel better longer and longer.


Questions & Answers About Chinese Herbal Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is the world’s oldest, continually practiced and professional medicine. Over the past 2,500 years medical scholars in every age have contributed to the development and refinement of the healing art. Chinese herbal medicine is the main treatment method within TCM.

Q: Do all the herbs come from China?

A: Chinese herbs do not need to be grown in China to be called “Chinese herb”, as long as those herbs are prescribed according to Chinese medical theory and TCM diagnosis. “American ginseng” and “Korea ginseng” are good examples.

Q: What does Chinese Herbal Medicine treat?

A: Chinese herbal medicine treats all kinds of conditions. From acute conditions, like common cold and stomach flu; It also treats all kinds of chronic conditions, such as digestive disorder, urinary disorder, gynecological disorder. Generally speaking, Chinese herbal medicine is especially good for working with people’s body constitution and promoting healing process.

Q: Does Chinese Herbal Medicine have side effects?

A: No, as long as the formula has been correctly chosen by an experience Chinese herbalist. Most of the Chinese herbs have a very low toxicity compared to common used, over-the-counter Western medicine. For example, ibuprofen may cause stomachache. Chinese herbs promote blood circulation to stop pain in general. It works for the whole body, and will not be too harsh for one internal organ. If a patient experiences any discomfort while taking Chinese herbs, he/she should tell the herbalist, who will modify the formula until the discomfort is gone.

Q: How long does it take to see results with Chinese Herbal Medicine?

A: In acute conditions, results can be expected in as less as half an hour. It takes longer time for chronic conditions. It always takes longer to repair your body system. The result usually can be expected at least one week.

Q: What is the difference between Chinese Herbal Medicine and Western folk herbalism?

A: Chinese Herbal Medicine is based on individualized pattern diagnosis as well as disease diagnosis. For example, two patients may get totally different herbal formula with same condition. When we treat headache, one is Yin deficient with wind invasion type of headache; The other one is Yang excess with Liver Qi stagnation. It means patients get custom-written herbal formula designed to treat both symptom and balance body condition to prevent disease. Western folk herbalism is kind of like Western Medicine which primarily deal with the symptom and disease. If someone suffers headache, just treat headache itself.

Q: How to choose a practitioner?

A: The National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncturist and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) certificates Chinese herbalist. Chinese Herbal Medicine is still the medicine. It needs to be prescribed by a trained, knowledgeable herbalist to avoid the side effects.


Chinese Medical Diagnosis

In addition to your physician’s Western medical diagnosis, Chinese medicine has its own system of personalized pattern discrimination. A Chinese medical pattern is a professionally recognized grouping of signs and symptoms. These sighs and symptoms are collected by the practitioner by what in Chinese medicine are called the “four examinations.” These four examinations are looking, listening-smelling, palpation, and questioning.


Looking means looking at the patient with normal eyesight. Your practitioner looks at the brightness and clarity of your eyes, the color and luster of your complexion, your facial expression, and your posture and movement. He or she will also visually inspect any problem areas you report. For instance, if you have a skin rash, your practitioner will want to see its shape, color, location, and size. Similarly, if you say that your elbow hurts, your practitioner will also visually inspect your elbow and its surrounding tissue to look for swelling, changes in color, and/or changes in shape.

Looking also means looking at the tongue. It is believed that changes in the internal organs manifest in changes in the shape, color, and fur or coating of the tongue. Each area of the tongue corresponds to one of the viscera or bowels of Chinese medicine. Therefore, changes in shape, color, or fur in these areas is believed to reflect changes in these organs. In modern Chinese medicine, tongue examination if extremely important, and your practitioner will typically spend some time checking and rechecking your tongue.


In ancient Chinese, there is a single verb, which covers both listening and smelling. Your practitioner will listen to the sound of your voice and the clarity of your communication. He or she will also listen to the sound of your breathing and the sound of any coughing or wheezing. In terms of smelling, these days this is mostly covered under questioning, where your practitioner may ask you about bad breath, unusual body odor, or the smell of your feces, urine, and/or vaginal discharges.


Palpation means feeling with one’s hands. There are tow divisions to palpation examination in Chinese medicine. The first of these is general palpation of any area of pain or discomfort. For instance, if you have sprained your wrist, your practitioner will want to feel the wrist. Likewise, if you say you have abdominal pain, your practitioner will want to palpate every patient’s abdomen on a routine basis.

The other main type of palpation in Chinese medicine is palpation of the pulse. This primarily means feeling the radial arteries at the wrists of both hands. Chinese doctors have believed for at least 2,000 years that one can diagnose all the main visceral and bowels through palpation of these arteries. Although there are several different styles of pulse palpation currently in use, all are based on the division of this section of these arteries into three areas, which correspond to three areas of the human body and their organs. By exerting different degrees of pressure at these three areas on the wrist, we believe one can detect pathological changes in all the main viscera and bowels of Chinese medicine. In order to describe and record the feelings under their fingertips, Chinese doctors use 28 different pulse images or feelings. One or more of these pulse images may combine together, thus forming a large number of possible variables. Pulse examination is the seemingly most arcane of the four Chinese medical examinations. However, it is based on definite standards and it has proven its worth in over 2,000 years of recorded clinical history.


Questioning is, in many ways, the most important of the four examinations. Your practitioner may question you in either or both of two ways:

  • by written in-take form
  • by oral questioning

you will typically find that Chinese medical practitioners ask many more questions than Western MDs do. This is because Chinese medical patterns describe the whole person, not just their disease or major complaint. We want to know about your appetite, diet, elimination, energy, sleep, mood, perspiration, body temperature, menstrual cycle, reproductive history, medical history, and as many details as possible about your main complaints. By the time your Chinese medical practitioner is through asking you questions, he or she should have a pretty complete picture of you as and individual person. Of course, all answers to these questions are protected by professional confidentiality.

Although there are four examinations, for the purposes of professional pattern discrimination, the information gathered by these four examinations is summarized under three main headings: general signs and symptoms, tongue signs, and pulse signs. It is the confluence of these three groups of information that establish a Chinese medical pattern. When treatment is given based on a combination of both your Western disease diagnosis and a Chinese medical pattern discrimination, you can be sure you are receiving the most comprehensive, holistic care available in the world today.

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