What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?

Modern medicine, ancient roots

Today's system of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) originated in ancient China and has evolved for thousands of years.  Today, it is still one of the major medical systems of the world, utilized by millions of people in Asia and the West.  Based on principles observed in ancient China of nature, health, and disease, Chinese Medicine is a complete system including its own forms of diagnosis, treatment, and therapies.  The primary goal of Chinese Medicine is to support a person's natural and innate energy to heal, and promote wholeness and harmony within mind, body and spirit.  

Today's TCM Chinese doctors still work upon ancient diagnostic methods that take into account the whole individual, devise treatments based on principles of promoting balance and harmony, and utilize modalities that support a person's natural ability to heal.  According to Chinese Medicine, balance and smooth circulation of Qi (vital energy) and Blood, are the foundation to health.  In order to support this, modalities such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, Chinese nutritional therapy, tuina (massage), cupping, moxibustion, gua-sha, and reflexology are utilized.  Qigong and Taichi exercise are also practiced for nourishing and smoothing the flow of Qi, enhancing body, mind, and spirit.  

What is Acupuncture and How Does It Work?

Currently, acupuncture is the most well-known modality of Chinese Medicine utilized in the West.

Fine, sterile, single-use needles are used to stimulate points on the body located on pathways called meridians.  Like rivers, these meridians connect points on the surface of the body to organ systems deeper found deeper within.  Activating these points induces a healing response by the body, promoting relaxation, correcting imbalances, improving the body's functions, and increasing well-being.  Performed by licensed practitioner trained in acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture is safe and effective, with very little to no side effects.   

It is estimated that each year in America, over 14 million people have used acupuncture.  As positive results of acupuncture continue to transform lives, acupuncture has become increasingly recognized and researched by top medical research institutions and universities in the United States.  More studies are finding scientific basis for the results.  It is now offered at many major hospitals and increasingly recommended to patients by doctors as an a complimentary or alternative therapy for pain, as well as other chronic internal conditions.  The World Health Organization, the National Institutes of Health and other medical institutions recognize acupuncture as a safe and successful treatment for a wide variety of health disorders (see below).   


What conditions are commonly treated by acupuncture?

Hundreds of clinical studies on the benefits of acupuncture show that it successfully treats conditions ranging from musculoskeletal problems (back pain, neck pain, and others) to nausea, migraine headache, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and infertility.

Case-controlled clinical studies have shown that acupuncture has been an effective treatment for the following diseases, symptoms or conditions:

Allergic rhinitis (including hay fever)
Biliary colic
Depression (including depressive neurosis and depression following stroke)
Dysentery, acute bacillary
Dysmenorrhoea, primary
Epigastralgia, acute (in peptic ulcer, acute and chronic gastritis, and gastrospasm)
Facial pain (including craniomandibular disorders)
Hypertension, essential
Hypotension, primary
Induction of labor
Knee pain
Low back pain
Malposition of fetus, correction
Morning sickness
Nausea and vomiting
Neck pain
Pain in dentistry (including dental pain and temporomandibular dysfunction)
Periarthritis of shoulder
Postoperative pain
Renal colic
Rheumatoid arthritis
Tennis elbow

The following diseases, symptoms or conditions have limited but probable evidence to support the therapeutic use of acupuncture:

Abdominal pain (in acute gastroenteritis or due to gastrointestinal spasm)
Acne vulgaris
Alcohol dependence and detoxification
Bell’s palsy
Bronchial asthma
Cancer pain
Cardiac neurosis
Cholecystitis, chronic, with acute exacerbation
Competition stress syndrome
Craniocerebral injury, closed
Diabetes mellitus, non-insulin-dependent
Epidemic haemorrhagic fever
Epistaxis, simple (without generalized or local disease)
Eye pain due to subconjunctival injection
Female infertility
Facial spasm
Female urethral syndrome
Fibromyalgia and fasciitis
Gastrokinetic disturbance
Gouty arthritis
Hepatitis B virus carrier status
Herpes zoster (human (alpha) herpesvirus 3)
Labour pain
Lactation, deficiency
Male sexual dysfunction, non-organic
Ménière disease
Neuralgia, post-herpetic
Opium, cocaine and heroin dependence
Pain due to endoscopic examination
Pain in thromboangiitis obliterans
Polycystic ovary syndrome (Stein-Leventhal syndrome)
Post-extubation in children
Postoperative convalescence
Premenstrual syndrome
Prostatitis, chronic
Radicular and pseudoradicular pain syndrome
Raynaud syndrome, primary
Recurrent lower urinary-tract infection
Reflex sympathetic dystrophy
Retention of urine, traumatic
Sialism, drug-induced (excessive salivation)
Sjögren syndrome
Sore throat (including tonsillitis)
Spine pain, acute
Stiff neck
Temporomandibular joint dysfunction
Tietze syndrome
Tobacco dependence
Tourette syndrome
Ulcerative colitis, chronic
Vascular dementia
Whooping cough (pertussis)

(Published by the University of San Diego Center for Integrative Medicine)

How do I prepare for acupuncture?

Allow yourself about an hour to an hour and a half for an acupuncture session.

It is recommended that you eat a light meal, snack, or do not come to an acupuncture session with an empty, growling stomach, as you may be distracted by hunger and feel especially tired and light-headed after the treatment. Wear loose, comfortable clothing that allows the acupuncturist to easily access any areas of pain and can easily by rolled up to expose the arms and the legs.  Some frequently used points are found near the knees and elbows.  

If you are taking herbal medicine or prescription medication, bring a list of what you are taking so the acupuncturist can take it into account while performing the evaluation and assessment. 

Bring an open mind and look forward to relaxing


What can I expect from acupuncture?

Upon your first initial visit, there will be a short intake form for you to fill out.  Once it is determined what you are seeking treatment for, you will be asked to recline or lay face down comfortably on a treatment table with your shoes and socks removed and mobile devices silenced.  Fine, sterile, single-use needles are inserted into acupuncture points of various parts of the body to stimulate healing response.  Anywhere from 2 to 30 needles may be utilized during one treatment, depending on your condition.  Upon initial insertion, a tiny prick may be felt, or nothing at all.  Other sensations such as pressure, tingling, soreness may be experienced in the site.  However, most of these sensations leave within seconds.  

Needles are retained for anywhere between 25 - 40 minutes.   During this time, you may experience a profound sense of relaxation or fall asleep.  It is best to not be distracted by thoughts, conversation, or cell phones so you can get the most out of the treatment.  Let your acupuncturist know if anything becomes uncomfortable or is bothering you, and she can make adjustments.

What follow-up and after-care do I need?

After your acupuncture treatment, you may feel relaxed and refreshed.  Some people may experience some light-headedness or want more rest.  While you can go back to work and your daily functions, it is not advised to do anything strenuous or high-stress for 2 - 3 hours after acupuncture. In addition, it is recommended that you protect yourself from any wind, cold, or strong air conditioning. If you received treatment for musculoskeletal pain, we will advise you to not do anything physically strenuous that may aggravate or re-injure the area. 

The treatment will take effect anywhere from immediately to over the course of the next few days.  Patients who get good and proper rest the night of the treatment (10 pm to bed) will experience better results from the treatment.   

If you are working on actively addressing a symptom or condition, consistent and follow-up acupuncture treatments are usually necessary.  While some people may feel amazing after just one treatment, this is rare.  An average of 3 - 5 treatments, once or twice a week are usually recommended for musculoskeletal pain.  After that, an assessment is done on how many more treatments may be needed.  For more chronic conditions including pain and internal health, the number of treatments can vary depending on age, overall health, and how long-standing the condition has become.  After resolving the problem, biweekly or monthly maintenance may be recommended.  

For facial rejuvenation acupuncture and weight loss acupuncture, consistent treatments over the course of several weeks to months are necessary.  

 Take a Five Elements Quiz to see what element you need to balance the most.