Angie's LIST Guide to
Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine is a set of ancient medicinal techniques. For more than 2,000 years, these practitioners have focused on treating the body by improving energy flow and promoting overall wellness.


Many options are available when it comes to alternative medicine. Unconventional treatments can be utilized when traditional medicine has proven to be ineffective or is not the patient's preferred treatment.
Many options are available when it comes to alternative medicine. Unconventional treatments can be utilized when traditional medicine has proven to be ineffective or is not the patient's preferred treatment.

What is qi?

Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) focus on the flow of qi in the body, and the entire model of the body in this form of medicine focuses on qi. So what is qi? Pronounced chee, it's the vital force that informs and animates all living things, and according to Chinese medicine, qi flows along channels or pathways called meridians.

TCM practitioners believe that the body contains 12 major meridians that flow to the various organs and allow for energy and messages throughout the body. These meridians can become blocked, which prevents the body from regulating itself and makes the patient unwell. Practitioners focus on unblocking these meridians through the use of acupuncture, acupressure, breathing exercises, posture changes, diet changes and herbal medications.

Chinese medicine practitioners have also identified hundreds of points along the meridians that affect various organs and functions in the body. By treating these points, the model indicates that the organs or functions associated with these points should also function properly.

In this model, qi is directly related to the blood, as it is carried in the blood and nurtured through the blood. Losing blood can cause a qi deficiency, which will manifest in illness or a fever. Understanding the relationship between qi and the blood has helped these practitioners choose appropriate treatments for patients interested in pursuing Chinese treatments for various medical conditions.

What's the focus of traditional Chinese medicine?

Traditional Chinese medicine's primarily focuses on wellness. In ancient China, patients paid doctors only if they stayed well. Practitioners use a range of treatments to help their patients achieve and maintain a state of wellness.

TCM treatments aim to restore the flow of qi and the balance of energy in the body. Symptoms indicate a disturbance in the flow of qi, not as an underlying illness that needs to be treated.

As practitioners strive to restore the flow of qi, they commonly employ acupuncture or acupressure, which involves the insertion of needles or the application or pressure into points along the meridians to unblock the flow of qi and restore wellness to the body.

Herbal medicine is also fundamental to the treatment of illness and promotion of wellness in Chinese medicine. The Chinese have catalogued more than 13,000 medicinal raw materials in their traditional medicine, and from these they have created more than 100,000 medicinal recipes. These medicines come primarily from plants but also may contain minerals and animal products.

Moxibustion, the burning of a dried herb near the skin, often accompanies acupuncture or acupressure treatments. Practitioners have also use cupping, which applies a heated cup to the skin to create suction. Other common treatments include Chinese massage and dietary therapy.

Are safety concerns an issue with traditional medicine?

Newcomers to these treatment methods may be concerned about the safety of TCM. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does regulate dietary supplements, such as the herbal medications prescribed by Chinese medicine practitioners, but not with the same regulations as modern drugs.

Because of this, some supplies of herbal medications can be tainted with toxins. Serious interactions may occur between prescription medications and herbal medications.

Patients who wish to benefit from herbal medications while avoiding these risks should choose a trained practitioner by referring to member recommendations and reviews on Angie's List. Also, informing the practitioner about any medications, both prescription and over the counter, that you are taking will help limit some of this risk.

Acupuncture has been considered a safe practice when performed by a qualified practitioner. The main risk of acupuncture treatment comes from contamination from the needles, but the use of sterile needles helps minimize this risk.

Other treatments from traditional Chinese medicine providers, such as Chinese massage, dietary therapy and cupping, have posed little risk throughout history and are generally recognized as safe treatment options.

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