Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been practiced for thousands of years and is an alternative medicine practice taken from traditional medicine in China.

Chinese medicine practitioners use a variety of methods including acupuncture, herbal medicines, acupressure, breathing techniques and tai chi to help people improve their overall well-being.

Overview: Traditional Chinese Medicine

TCM focuses on both the mind and body.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been practiced for thousands of years and is an alternative medicine practice taken from traditional medicine in China. China has set up research bases for traditional Chinese medicines and has developed a system of coordination between TCM clinical studies and disease prevention and treatment. Historical texts of documented information about traditional Chinese medicine are available online from the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health in peer-reviewed journals and in specialized books.

Qi and meridians.

Chinese medicine practitioners use acupuncture, herbal medicines, acupressure, breathing techniques and tai chi to help people improve their health.

TCM theory holds that Qi (pronounced “chee”) is a life or vital energy that constantly changes and runs through your entire body. In Traditional Chinese Medicine philosophy, Qi flows freely through certain channels in the body called “meridians.” Each meridian corresponds to a certain part of the human body that controls a particular function. If you’re healthy, Qi maintains equilibrium within the body by balancing its negative and positive aspects. TCM treatments usually focus on promoting and maintaining the flow of Qi.

Older Asian couple hiking on mountain ridge

A focus on the mind and body.

Western modern medicine views the body a lot like an automobile: it has different systems which require the right input and output. Western medicine often relies on medications prescribed individually to cure a certain ailment.

However, TCM focuses on the mind and body, which is based on balance, harmony and energy flow. When Qi becomes blocked or unbalanced, TCM treatments aim to restore the balance and flow.

TCM therapy may work well as a stand-alone treatment for many conditions, but acts as a more effective treatment when it’s combined with Western medicine and care.

Balancing yin and yang.

When healthy, Qi maintains a balance between two opposing energies: the yin (negative, dark, feminine, tied with the parasympathetic nervous system) and the yang (positive, light, masculine, tied with the sympathetic nervous system).To balance these, TCM helps make us aware of our emotions and thoughts. If the yin and yang are not aligned properly, you may feel ill. Traditional Chinese Medicine aims to restore the balance between health and disease with individually tailored treatments.

Common treatments used in TCM


Acupuncture is the most well-known Traditional Chinese Medicine technique, where practitioners use needles to stimulate specific points on the body.

The World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health recognize acupuncture as a viable treatment option for a wide range of conditions and illnesses.  According to studies, acupuncture helps stimulate the release of the body’s natural painkillers and affects the areas of the brain that control pain. Studies have shown acupuncture to be effective for pain relief and pain management, as well as post-surgery, chemotherapy-related and pregnancy-related nausea.

The release of endorphins and anti-inflammatory chemicals with acupuncture may help relieve some types of chronic pain, including pain from degenerative diseases, low back pain, menstrual cramps, dental pain, neck pain, arthritis/knee pain and carpal tunnel syndrome. Further benefits of acupuncture may help reduce the frequency of tension headaches and prevent migraine headaches.

How it’s done.

Acupuncture is administered by inserting hair-thin needles into the skin to stimulate the flow of blood to stimulate specific points of the body, alleviating pain and treating both physical and emotional conditions. To reduce infection risk, all acupuncture needles are single use, and our acupuncture practitioners are Clean Needle Technique (CNT) certified.

Acupuncture must be delivered properly.

Reported complications from using acupuncture only occur when using non-sterile needles and improper treatment methods. If not delivered properly, acupuncture can cause serious adverse effects, which may include infections, punctured organs, collapsed lungs and injury to the central nervous system.

Chinese herbal treatments

Chinese herbal medicine treatments are complex formulas developed by acupuncturists to treat specific conditions. Medical conditions like cardiovascular disease (such as stroke and heart attack), mental illness and respiratory illnesses (such as bronchial asthma and the common cold) may be treated with Chinese herbal medicine. Unlike Western herbalism, which is rooted in Native American and European folk tradition, Chinese herbal medicine has been recorded in classical Chinese texts, refined, used and studied by medical professionals for over 2,000 years.

Herbal formulas are made from extracting the therapeutic agents from raw Chinese herbs through a process called herbal decoction, in which the herbal or plant material’s chemicals are dissolved. The result is a more potent form of the herbs that can offer similar bioactive agents as pharmaceutical drugs.

There have been reports of complications from taking Chinese herbs, including adverse reactions and potentially harmful drug interactions. These formulas are not regulated by the FDA, and may contain toxins or heavy metals (like lead). They may also interact with certain prescription medications or dietary supplements. We strongly recommend that you use them only when advised to do so by an experienced TCM practitioner.

Tui Na

Tui Na and acupressure are two other components of TCM. Tui Na is a form of medical deep-tissue massage and manipulation used to free blockages of Qi. Tui Na helps activate circulation, improve range of motion in joints, reduce muscle tension and restore balance.

Acupressure stimulates acupoints without needles. To maintain the benefits of your treatment, your TCM practitioner can teach you acupressure techniques that your can perform at home. Both Tui Na and acupressure are very safe.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about Traditional Chinese Medicine

What can I expect in a TCM session?

Before starting any treatments, the TCM practitioner will take a detailed medical history and conduct a physical examination to check for signs of imbalanced Qi within your body.

For your safety, please tell your practitioner if you have a pacemaker, take any medications or are pregnant. Your practitioner may examine your skin, tongue, hair and other parts of your body for signs of illness, including looking at the brightness of your eyes, checking your pulse and listening to your voice. They will also check your organs to see if any are malfunctioning.

After discussing the options available for correcting any imbalances, the practitioner will then outline your treatment plan, or the best way to combine TCM treatments for you. Depending on your condition, your treatment could include acupuncture, Tui Na, Chinese herbal treatments or a combination of the three.

What are the benefits and risks of TCM?

Traditional Chinese Medicine focuses on treating the whole person rather than just one symptom. It may be a good treatment option for you if you:

  • Have multiple symptoms without an obvious cause.
  • Need to treat adverse reactions and side effects from medication.
  • Have already tried conventional medicine treatment and haven’t gotten any positive results.
  • Want to avoid illness.

Traditional Chinese Medicine is not suggested to replace Western medicine or prescribed drugs, especially if you have a serious condition like cancer or liver disease. Be cautious when using Chinese herbs, especially if you’re a child, elderly, pregnant or breastfeeding, scheduled for surgery or taking other medicine.

Is TCM considered "real" medicine?

Yes, although TCM is meant to complement Western medicine, not to replace it.

Information about traditional Chinese medicine is available online from the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health in peer-reviewed journals and in specialized books.

How many TCM treatments will I need?

Your acupuncturist or TCM practitioner will explain your personalized program and what treatment is recommended. Acute or temporary illnesses might require only a few treatments, while chronic conditions may require regularly scheduled treatments over several months.


National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). Traditional Chinese Medicine: What You Need To Know (

National Cancer Institute (NCI). Definition of Traditional Chinese Medicine (