What is Chinese Medicine?


Chinese Medicine includes Acupuncture, Moxibustion, Chinese Herbal Medicine, Chinese Manual Therapy, Nutrition Counseling, Movement Practices (Taiji & Qigong), as well as case evaluation and management. Chinese Medicine utilizes a system of diagnosis that identifies the underlying pattern of dysfunction that leads to disease, rather than treating disease directly. Becuase Chinese Medicine seeks to identify the underlying pattern, one disease may be treated differently in different patients, as their underlying pattern of dysfunction may differ. Also, different diseases may be treated similarly, if their underlying pattern of dysfunction is similar. This relates to an idea in Chinese medicine known as root and branch, where the root is the origin of disease and the branch is the outcome, usually the most prevalent symptoms.


In order to evaluate and manage a case, a Chinese Medicine practitioner uses an intake process that consists of inquiry about chief complaints, history of present illness, as well as a review of systems, not unlike the conventional medical intake process, but with some difference in focus. The conclusions that are drawn from this process are likely to be based on Chinese medical theory, which has a functional view of human physiology. Chinese medical physiology is described through interrelated systems of symbolism, including, yin and yang, hot and cold, blood and qi, excess and deficiency, fluid metabolism, the 5 elements, the three burners (Sanjiao), the 3 treasures (jing-qi-shen), the six conformations, the 12 organ systems, and 8 extraordinary vessels, as well as the anatomy of the interconnected channel systems. Examination may consist of observations of the details of the tongue (body, coat, size, color, veins, etc.), radial pulse (rate, size, & qualities at multiple positions on each arm with multiple depths at each position), face, eyes, abdominal palpation, muscle and connective tissue palpation, and channel palpation. The hypotheses gathered from the inquiry can be confirmed or denied through the process of observation and palpation, in order to formulate a treatment plan that appropriately addresses the underlying imbalances in the patient’s physiology. Some or all of the treatment methods discussed below can be utilized in a treatment if their use is applied in alignment with the treatment principles, which are based on bringing the patients underlying physiology back into a state of harmony.

Traditionally, Acupuncture and Moxibustion were taken together as one mode of treatment. Acupuncture refers to any stimulation of an anatomically defined point on the body with an instrument of any sort, whether touched, needled, or bled. These points are considered to be influential areas along the channels or meridians. Moxibustion refers to the practice of burning cones of mugwort leaf wool on such points; usually a balm or salve is applied under the cones, and the cones are extinguished before burning all the way down to the skin, so that the sensation is generally one of comfortable warmth. Needles are considered better at dispersing blockages, whether they be knots in the muscle sinew channels, congestion in the primary channels of qi, or blood stasis in the vasculature. Moxibustion is considered better for tonifying (boosting) blood and warming yang. The species of mugwort used to make the woolen material that is rolled into cones is an herb that is considered blood tonic in its own right, and the volatile oils that emerge from its embers are considered to retain that function.


Chinese Herbal Medicine has a textual history of over 2000 years, and very likely a much longer history before the earliest remaining texts were written, as the practices appear highly developed at the point when they were first written down. Chinese Herbal Medicine relies heavily on formula combinations of herbs rather than the use of single herbs as medicines. There is an understanding of the functional interaction of herbs within formulas constructed to have very clear actions within the human body. Chinese Herbal Medicine can seem extremely dense and complicated, as it not only relies on the entire logic of Chinese Medical theory on physiology and pathology but also accounts for the nuanced complexity of the herbal medicines themselves and their complex interactions, which can mutually change the nature of their effect in the human body.


Chinese Manual Therapies commonly include Qigong Tuina (Channel Massage), which comes in both a gentle (yin) and more aggressive (yang) form. The methods included under the title of Tuina are very diverse from techniques that resemble CranioSacral therapy to some that resemble deep tissue massage. Cupping and Guasha are also sometimes employed as manual therapies in Chinese medical treatment. Cupping is the use of a vacuum induced in a cup to suction the skin with negative pressure. The suction can be created either by swiping a flame inside the cup or using a pump. Cupping can be a great way to rejuvenate blood flow to a region of tissues in the body while helping to flush depleted wastes from the area. Guasha is the use of a tool made usually of stone or metal with rounded edges to scape the skin in order to bring up redness.  The redness will usually be mild in most areas but more intense in areas with great stagnation, and these areas of stronger color are often called “sha” meaning sand. Guasha is a great technique for inducing a sweat to help break a fever due to the common cold.

Nutrition Counseling can be informed both by ancient wisdom around food flavors, affinities, and pairings to help harmonize imbalances in the body, as well as modern research into dietary changes and their effects on human health. Nutrition Counseling tends to require a high degree of personalization to be effective, so it is important to consider all of the aspects affecting diet and digestion as well as how eating habits fit into a person’s personal, professional, and emotional life. Each person has their own digestive ability informed by their relationship to food over a lifetime, and it can take time to make sustainable changes in order to radically improve health through this most basic act of sustenance.

The two main Chinese Movement Practices, which are known as Taiji (aka Tai Chi) and Qigong (aka Chi Gong), both originate from Daoyin, which roughly translates as pulling and stretching. Qigong translates as ‘breath’ or ‘vital energy’ ‘work’ or ‘practice,’ while Taiji translates as ‘greatest ultimate,’ being the name for the yin-yang symbol of Daoist philosophy that symbolizes harmonization of opposing polarities. Both Qigong and Taiji have historical relationships with martial arts, but in modern practice, both are generally considered to be internal cultivation practices for physical, mental, and spiritual exercise. Both Qigong and Taiji work with similar forms but emphasize different principles. Some masters say that Qigong is better for youth as it is more vigorous and Taiji is better for those who are more mature as it requires greater refinement of movement.

Because the license to practice Chinese Medicine in Oregon is described in the law as a licensed “Acupuncturist,” the diagnostic and treatment methods listed above are outlined in their definition of this license (see Oregon Secretary of State website: https://secure.sos.state.or.us/oard/viewSingleRule.action;JSESSIONID_OARD=RoUetZitsr9nOM7nkX8VnsCxvBjFa_lFEepIl_AOI7QyiQ9YtSmI!568786841?ruleVrsnRsn=214883).

Basic Chinese Terms discussed above:

針 zhēn – needle

灸 jiǔ – moxibustion

針灸 zhēnjiǔ – Acupuncture & Moxibustion

中國〔国〕 Zhōngguó – (central territory) China

中醫 Zhōngyī – Chinese (central) Medicine

中藥 Zhōngyào – Chinese (central) Herbal Medicinals

氣功 qìgōng – vital energy work

太極 tàijí – Absolute or Supreme Ultimate

推拿 tuīná – (push & pull) Chinese manual therapy

三焦〔膲〕 sānjiāo – triple burner

精 jīng – essence

氣 qì – vital energy

神 shén – spirit, consciousness

陰陽 yīn yáng – Opposing polarities that combine to form the basis of each and every thing