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What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a comprehensive system of medicine used in the West mainly for treatment of ‘chronic’ conditions. That is to say, of course, in an emergency, patients would call a regular ambulance but for a long standing knee problem, for example, they may well choose TCM. It uses many different treatment methods: acupuncture, herbal medicine, tui na massage, cupping, moxibustion, dietary therapy and Qi Gong. True TCM uses no modern pharmaceutical drugs and can be used alongside modern conventional medicine with a good practitioner aware of the situation. Properly trained practitioners can make a TCM diagnosis and offer TCM  for a variety of conditions. It is popularly offered for patients with gastro-intestinal problems, skin disorders, musculo-skeletal and neurological problems, gynaecological problems, male and female infertility, headaches, insomnia, stress, addictions and poor emotional states.

TCM theory is complex but a simple crystallization could be illness and/or ill-ease result from disordered Qi. TCM seeks to rebalance the disordered Qi. Qi is the ‘vital energy’, ‘motive force’ responsible for all the functioning of the body and mind. Modern theories have suggested Qi is energy of “both nutritive and cellular-organisational characteristics” (1).

The famous Yin Yang symbol denotes different types of Qi in Traditional Chinese Medicine

The famous Yin Yang symbol denotes different types of Qi in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Brief History
TCM classical medical texts date back to approximately the 2nd century, detailing diagnosis and treatment of disease and the system has been in use ever since. In 1949, the Chinese government declared it part of the national healthcare strategy. The practice became standardised through the opening of large TCM medical universities during the 1950s. Today TCM accounts for a third of all of all outpatient hospital visits in China, some 1.3 billion per year. 49.7% of doctors in health care clinics practice TCM, with 32.3% practising both orthodox medicine and TCM (2). In China, TCM students train as part of hospital teams and are refered to as TCM doctors once qualfiied, typically traiing for a minum of 5 to 7 years.


Charts of acupuncture points

In the West, although TCM had been practiced previously, interest truly flourished in the 1970’s, due to the enthusiasm of the American President Richard Nixon. A programme encouraged China’s TCM doctors to share their knowledge with their American counterparts. TCM has become increasingly established in Western cultures and is taught as an undergraduate medicine degree in some British universities. Training at university level in the UK typicaly lasts 3 to 4 years at undergraduate level and 1 to 2 yeras at masters level, with a further 1 to 2 years for doctorate level studies.  The World Health Organisation recognises TCM acupuncture for treatment of many diseases and many UK GPs now refer patients routinely to TCM practitioners (3).

Photo credits: Yin yang

1. Gerber, R. (2001). Vibrational  Medicine. Vermont: Bear & Co.
2. Xu, J. & Yang, Y. (2009). ‘Traditional Chinese medicine in the Chinese health care system’. Health Policy. 90, p.133-139.
3. Technology Assessment Collaboration (WMHTAC). (2006). ‘Acupuncture. Mapping the evidence base and use of acupuncture. within the NHS’. [online] Available from:

DISCLAIMER: NO information here is intended to be taken as medical advice – or used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Any person with any health concerns is advised instead to consult their doctor. In the case of persons seeking therapy using Traditional Chinese Medicine, this information cannot be taken as medical advice and persons are advised instead to consult a suitably qualified professional practitioner.

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