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Everything you need to know about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been an integral part of Chinese culture for thousands of years and offers a unique approach to health and well-being that differs markedly from Western medicine. As interest in alternative healing practices continues to grow around the world, understanding the fundamental principles and practices of TCM can open new avenues to optimal health and well-being. Are you ready to embark on a fascinating journey into TCM?

Short summary: ​

  • Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an ancient holistic healing system based on the principles of yin and yang, qi, zang-fu organs, meridians and the five-phase theory.

  • Standard practices include acupuncture and moxibustion, herbal medicine, Tai Chi and Qigong. Massage and nutritional therapy to restore balance to the body.

Understanding Traditional Chinese Medicine

TCM is an ancient complete medical system focusing on the individual’s well-being rather than treating a specific disease. It is deeply rooted in the philosophies of Yinyangism, which combines the Five Phases theory with the Yin-Yang theory and has connections to Daoism.
This unique approach to healing employs various practices such as acupuncture, herbal remedies, and tai chi, all based on the principles of yin and Yang, qi, and the Five Phases theory.

The Roots of Chinese Medicine

We can trace the history of Chinese medicine back to the Shang dynasty (c. 1600 BC– c. 1045 BC), with significant progress made during the Han dynasty. Herbal treatments have been an integral part of Chinese medicine since its inception, with the Chinese materia medica, a comprehensive collection of herbs and other substances used in TCM, developed and refined over centuries.
Prominent medical scholars of the post-Han period, such as Tao Hongjing, Sun Simiao, Zhang Jiegu, and Li Shizhen, significantly contributed to developing alternative therapies in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Their work has shaped the TCM landscape today, focusing on understanding the body as an “ensemble of functions” that encompasses both the human psyche and emotions.

Key Principles and Philosophies

TCM is grounded in Yin and Yang, Qi, organs, meridians, and the Five Phases theory, used to understand and treat various health conditions. Yin and Yang represent opposing forces that describe the characteristics of qi, the life energy or vital force believed to flow through the body and be essential for health and well-being. Chinese medicines, including herbal remedies and acupuncture, aim to restore the balance between yin and Yang to promote overall health.
The zàng-fu organs, believed to be the source of qi and xu, consist of the heart, liver, spleen, lungs, and kidneys, while meridians are pathways through which qi and xu flow. The Five Phases theory is a correspondence system between the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water) and the body’s organs, meridians, and other aspects.
These concepts form the basis of TCM’s approach to diagnosing and treating various health issues, including chronic neck pain and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Standard Practices in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Eine Gruppe von Menschen übt Tai Chi auf einer Dachterrasse

Standard practices in TCM include acupuncture, moxibustion, herbal remedies, tai chi, and qigong, all aiming to restore balance and harmony within the body. Acupuncture, for instance, involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points of the body to stimulate energy flow. At the same time, moxibustion uses the burning of an herb called mugwort over particular issues to achieve the same goal. 

Acupuncture and Moxibustion

Acupuncture and moxibustion are traditional methods used to stimulate specific points in the body, regulate the flow of qi, and alleviate pain. Acupuncture involves the insertion of thin needles into superficial structures of the body, such as the skin, subcutaneous tissue, and muscles, typically at designated acupuncture points, followed by their manipulation. Conversely, moxibustion involves burning mugwort on or near the skin at an acupuncture point.
Some clinical trials have shown the potential benefits of acupuncture for specific health conditions, such as joint pain and neck pain. 

ein Praktiker, der Akupunktur an einem Patienten durchführt
Alternative Medicine

Herbal Remedies

Herbal remedies in TCM, also known as Chinese herbal medicine, use a variety of plant, animal, and mineral substances to treat various health conditions. These remedies can be taken orally, in herbal teas or dietary supplements, or applied topically.

Tai Chi and Qigong

Tai chi and qigong are mind-body practices that combine movement, meditation, and breathing techniques to cultivate and balance qi. Tai chi is a form of exercise that combines slow, graceful movements with deep breathing and meditation. At the same time, qigong focuses on slow, gentle movements accompanied by deep breathing and meditation.
Practicing tai chi and qigong may offer balance, stability, and pain management benefits in certain health conditions. Tai chi provides several advantages. It can improve balance and strength in older people and those with Parkinson’s disease, reduce pain from knee osteoarthritis, help people manage fibromyalgia and back pain, and promote quality of life and improved mood in people with heart failure.

Diagnosing and Treating Conditions with Traditional Chinese Medicine

TCM practitioners use various diagnostic methods, such as tongue and pulse diagnosis, to identify patterns of disharmony within the body and determine appropriate treatment approaches. 
TCM practitioners understand the underlying ways of discord in the body rather than focusing on specific disease entities, as is common in Western medicine.
Traditional Chinese medicine aims to rebalance the body and address the root cause of disharmony. A combination of therapies treats each individual’s unique conditions, including acupuncture, herbal remedies, tai chi, and qigong. Restoring balance for the body is the key.
It is essential to consult with a qualified TCM practitioner for diagnosis and treatment, as they can assess your specific needs and recommend the most appropriate therapies for your condition. TCM practitioners will typically use diagnostic methods, such as inspection, auscultation, observation, inquiry, and palpation, to comprehensively understand your health and determine the most effective treatment approach.

Diagnostic Methods

Diagnostic methods in TCM include inspection, analysis, olfaction, inquiry, and palpation, focusing on understanding the underlying patterns of disharmony rather than specific disease entities. Inspection of the tongue is an integral part of the diagnosis. The therapist looks at the tongue’s shape, size, color, texture, potential cracks, teeth marks, and coating. Pulse palpation involves measuring the pulse at both superficial and deep levels at three different locations on the radial artery of each arm for twelve pulses, all of which correspond with specific organs.
Assessing the pulse in TCM involves examining several characteristics, such as rhythm, strength, and volume, as well as describing the pulse with qualities like “floating,” “slippery,” “bolstering-like,” “feeble,” and “quick,” each of which may indicate specific disease patterns. In cases of febrile and infectious diseases, TCM practitioners may also employ unique pattern diagnosis systems, such as the “Six Channel system” or “six division pattern,” “Wei Qi Ying Xue system” or “four division pattern,” and “San Jiao system” or “three burners pattern.”
While distinct from those used in Western medicine, these diagnostic methods provide TCM practitioners with valuable information about a person’s health and help guide their treatment approach. 

Treatment Approaches

TCM treatment approaches are tailored to the individual’s unique disharmony pattern, addressing the imbalance’s root cause rather than merely treating symptoms. This personalized approach may involve a combination of therapies, such as acupuncture, herbal remedies, tai chi, qigong, and other forms of TCM treatment.
Acupuncture, for example, has effectively treated specific health conditions like joint and neck pain. Herbal remedies, while lacking strong scientific evidence for their efficacy in some cases, can also be a valuable part of an individualized TCM treatment plan. Combining these therapies, along with other TCM practices like tai chi and qigong, can help restore balance in the body and promote overall health and well-being.

Comparing Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western Medicine

Die westliche Medizin konzentriert sich auf invasive Eingriffe und physische Veränderungen des Körpers
Die chinesische Medizin konzentriert sich auf nicht-invasive Behandlungen, die das Gleichgewicht des Körpers auf natürliche Weise wiederherstellen.

TCM and Western medicine have significant differences in their underlying philosophies and diagnostic methods, with TCM often considered complementary or alternative medicine in Western countries. While Western medicine follows an evidence-based scientific approach and typically utilizes pharmaceutical remedies to address health issues, TCM is more of an art of healing based on the concept of Yin and Yang and the five elements in the human body. It relies heavily on herbs, acupuncture, and other traditional Chinese methods to restore balance and harmony in the body.
TCM practitioners believe that the body is a complex system of energy pathways and that an imbalance causes illness.


In conclusion, Traditional Chinese Medicine offers a unique and holistic approach to health and wellness practiced for thousands of years. From its rich history and foundational principles to its diverse treatment modalities, TCM provides a fascinating alternative or complement to conventional Western medicine. By understanding the intricacies of TCM and finding a qualified practitioner, you can embark on a journey toward achieving optimal health and well-being through the wisdom of this ancient healing art.

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