An Overview of Traditional Chinese Medicine

We have all taken medicine for a headache, insomnia, or a stomachache that only offered temporary relief.  The reason that the relief was temporary is that the root (or underlying cause) of the illness was not treated.  Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) diagnoses and treats the root of an individual’s ailment through pattern diagnosis.  Today, I will inform you about the methods used by a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the pattern diagnostic utilized, and about how TCM prevents and treats illness.

In TCM, the individual is treated, not the disease. An underlying principle of Chinese medicine is that the body knows how to heal itself. The practitioner works to remove obstructions to health, support deficiencies, clear/drain excesses, etc. A person’s body will resolve the ailment once the practitioner is able to balance the pattern they demonstrate.

The methods used in TCM are Acupuncture, Herbal remedies, Tui-na (an invigorating Chinese style of bodywork, also used as a treatment modality for young children), cupping, Gwa Sha (which is a scraping technique used on the skin to pulls out toxins from the body- the marking that is made on the skin is called the “sha”), and Moxibustion (which is a compressed plant that is burned close to the skin and has a deeply warming effect on the body). All of these approaches utilize pattern diagnosis to treat the meridians (or energy pathways) and the organ systems of the body. Treatments are very safe and effective. A Chinese Medicine Classic, the Spiritual Pivot, states in chapter 17, “It is by virtue of the twelve channels that human life exists, that disease arises, that human beings can be treated and illness is cured.”

Traditional Chinese Medicine is able to treat the root (or source) of an illness because it utilizes pattern diagnosis. Pattern Diagnosis consists of tongue and pulse diagnosis, listening to the patient’s symptoms, and looking at the patient’s color and movement. According to Giovanni Maciocia in The Foundations of Chinese Medicine, pg. 127 “…the nature of the pattern is often related to its specific cause of disease.” The pattern that is looked for involves a combination of signs and symptoms that have a foundation in yin and yang theory. These patterns indicate that the body is hot or cold, deficient or excess, whether the illness is internal or external, etc. The pulse indicates the state of the organ systems, meridians, blood, qi (energy), yin (fluids of the body), and yang (body circulation and warmth). Looking at the patient’s tongue is like looking at a mirror of the patient’s body system and can indicate to the practitioner if certain channels and/or organ systems are hot or cold, deficient or excess, and more.

Chinese medicine is able to prevent illness before it occurs and to effectively treat an already existing illness. These treatments harmonize all parts of the person. The diagnostic methods utilized allow a practitioner to recognize a pattern of illness before it manifests symptoms for the patient. Because each person’s body is unique, a single western medicine diagnosis can have several different TCM diagnoses.

Yin and Yang are emblems of the fundamental duality in the universe, a duality which is ultimately unified,” as stated in Acupuncture, a Comprehensive Text from the Shanghai College of Traditional Medicine.




  • “Acupuncture, a Comprehensive Text,”  The Shanghai College of Traditional Medicine, translated and editied by John O’Connor and Dan Bensky.
  • Giovanni Maciocia, “The Foundations of Chinese Medicine” pg. 127
  • Spiritual Pivot, Chapter 17, by Wu Nian Jian
  • Five Branches University education  (MTCM)

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