What is TCM?
TCM stands for Traditional Chinese Medicine, an ancient form of medicine developed in China over thousands of years. TCM includes the techniques of Acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage, and many more, and is a Holistic form of medicine.
Our bodies normally operate in a balanced, self-regulating manner. When this balance is disrupted, symptoms arise. The modern approach to disease is often to mask these symptoms, seeing them as an inconvenience. The holistic approach followed by Traditional Chinese Medicine is to appreciate symptoms as information. This information is used to define the core imbalance that is causing not just the main presenting symptom but also a range of other symptoms that the patient may or may not be aware of until they are brought to their attention e.g. sometimes one doesn’t know quite how tired they were until they feel more energetic.
An individual does not need to have symptoms in order to benefit from treatment. The old adage “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure” has always been seen as important in China. At one time in China, the patient would pay their doctor as long as they were well but would be treated for free if they fell ill.
Traditional Chinese medicine is one of the oldest, professionally practised forms of medicine in the world. There are textbooks dating back 2000 years dealing with its theory and clinical practice. Today, Chinese hospitals provide integrated treatment, doctors being trained in both modern Western and Traditional Chinese Medicine. In short, is the most clinically tested form of medicine in the world. In the past few decades, modern methods of testing the effectiveness of Chinese medical treatments have been used to corroborate this clinical experience. Gradually, we are starting to see what the potential of Traditional Chinese medical techniques that the Chinese have seen for millennia.
Just as Western medicine is a fully integrated system of medicine with the various branches of drug therapy, physiotherapy, surgery etc., Chinese medicine is similar. The main branches of Chinese medicine are acupuncture, herbal therapy, Chinese massage and manipulation, moxibustion and various other miscellaneous techniques.
In China, Traditional Chinese Medicine is used to treat a vast variety of diseases from chronic to acute, and from serious to minor.
The UK government is currently planning for the integration and cooperation of modern medicine with acupuncture, and other forms of alternative medicine, in order to give patients the best possible choice whilst providing low-cost effective and long-term solutions to their health problems.
The basic premise of Traditional Chinese Medicine
In relation to human health, the Chinese word ‘Qi’ (pronounced ‘Chee’) is used to refer to the fundamental vitality of the body that keeps it functioning in a balanced manner. Qi could be described as an electromagnetic energy that flows through the body along certain pathways that the Chinese call meridians. These meridians connect with the internal organs of the body to create a lattice of communication networks that ensure the proper working of the entire body. When the circulation of this Qi is impeded for whatever reason (see section below on cases of disease), symptoms develop.
Because of the scientific developments over the last few decades it is possible to detect the presence, strength and pathways of circulation of this Qi using specialised instrumentation.
Over the last few thousand years, the Chinese have found, through experience, that the abundance and ease of circulation of Qi throughout the body can be affected by either stimulating special areas of the body (meridians and acupoints) or by the consumption of specific herbs that are prescribed according to the nature of the complaint.
Traditional Chinese Medicine has been tested clinically over several thousand years. It is only over the last few decades that its effectiveness has been tested using modern medical methods i.e. randomised controlled trials (RCTs). Whilst RCTs can be used to glean some useful information about the useful clinical application of Traditional Chinese Medicine, they are not very appropriate for assessing a form of treatment that treats each patient individually. Because of the central concept of holism, each patient is treated as a unique individual. In Chinese medicine, the concept of patterns of disharmony is used. One Traditional Chinese Medical pattern of disharmony may give rise to many different diseases. However, one disease seen in five different patients might be categorised as five different patterns, one for each patient. For example, five patients with arthritis of the left knee may give rise to five different Chinese medical diagnosis and, therefore, five different treatments. Whereas patients with diseases as varied as lower back pain, cystitis, high blood pressure, menopausal syndrome and anxiety may also share the same Chinese medical pattern of, say, Kidney Yin deficiency.
Recent research into the safety of acupuncture shows that it is one of the safest forms of medicine available today. Certainly, in comparison to conventional medicines, its safety is unparalleled. Single use disposable needles and strict codes of practice are used to guarantee patient safety.