Chinese medicine is a broad term encompassing many different modalities and traditions of healing, which share a common heritage of technique or theory rooted in ancient Chinese philosophy (Taoism). Given the distribution of the world population, it is likely that more people have been treated by Chinese medicine in its various forms than any other approach in history. There are many possible ways to categorize the modalities and traditions of Chinese medicine. The following categorization will be used in this monograph to describe the major approaches available:
Chinese herbal medicine: This is perhaps the oldest form of medicine based on Chinese medical principles. It is based on the energetic qualities of the herbs rather than the chemical properties as understood by Western pharmacology. There are over 2,000 different kinds of herbs (of which about 400 are commonly used). Chinese herbal medicine may be employed as a complete system of healing in itself, or may be combined with many of the other practices outlined below.
Traditional acupuncture: Also known as "five element" or "classical acupuncture," traditional acupuncture evolved as a distinct practice (separate from herbs). It is the longest-established form of acupuncture practice in the U.S. Its philosophy is that acupuncture without herbs is a complete medical system in itself.
Medical acupuncture: This is acupuncture delivered by a Western-trained medical practitioner within the practice of Western medicine. Medical acupuncture developed in Europe as a result of the introduction of Chinese medical texts and practices by traders and missionaries in the17th and 18th Centuries.
Ethnic Chinese traditional medicine: This is a loosely defined, generic form of Chinese medicine usually practiced by the ethnic Chinese practitioners in large urban centers in the United States and other countries. There is no single organized body of theory or training. This is in contrast to the more formal, organized system referred to as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM, described later). Both acupuncture and herbs may be used, and some practitioners use electrical stimulation of the needles. Practitioners commonly prepare raw herb formulas and send them home in paper wrappings or jars with the client, for the client to brew into a medicinal tea at home.
Japanese acupuncture: Japanese acupuncture is practiced by a small, but growing number of Western acupuncturists. Japanese needles are considerably thinner than others, and as a result are now used by many practitioners of other forms of Chinese medicine because they are thought to be more gentle and subtle for the patient. Japanese acupuncture theory does not include herbs, although some practitioners do employ them based on other principles.
Auricular acupuncture: Auricular acupuncture is acupuncture performed at points exclusively on the ear. Many of its practitioners consider this approach to be a complete medical system for treating functional and allergic disorders, and often use it exclusive of any other type of practice. It is also used for pain control and to assist in drug and alcohol withdrawal.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM): In the 1940s and 50s the government of China undertook an effort to coalesce the myriad forms of Chinese medicine into a unified system officially labeled traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The intent was to integrate the country's large work force of traditional practitioners into a Western-style health service delivery system to help provide care for a large population, using familiar and inexpensive methods. TCM uses a well-defined theory and places a heavy emphasis on herbal medicine supplemented by acupuncture. Herbs are usually given in the form of manufactured or processed pills, extracts, capsules, tinctures or powders, in contrast to the raw and dried form favored in ethnic Chinese traditional medicine.
Cupping and moxibustion: Cupping is the application of a heated cup over an area of the body. As the air inside cools its volume decreases, it creates a slight suction on the area that stimulates blood circulation. Moxibustion is the burning of an herb, usually mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), above the skin or on the acupuncture points in order to introduce heat into an acupuncture point to alleviate symptoms. It may be applied in the form of a cone, stick, or loose herb; or it may be placed on the head of an acupuncture needle, to manipulate the temperature gradient of the needle.
Acupressure and shiatsu: These are both names for a technique of massage involving the use of finger pressure on acupuncture points (rather than using needles). Based on Chinese medical theory of the human energy system, acupressure and shiatsu seek to stimulate the flow and circulation of chi (vital energy, life force) through the person's meridian system (system of pathways of circulation of chi through the body).
Eclectic Chinese medicine: The greatest number of Western practitioners of Chinese medicine may be described as eclectic, although their original training was in one of the specific forms above. Many practitioners draw from several different sources to create their own synthesis that works best for them in their own style of practice.
Other modalities: There are other related modalities of healing that have their origins in Chinese medicine concepts or theory. Many of these have been examined in scientific studies. Please read individual Natural Standard monographs for details.
Practitioners: Because of the diversity of forms in which Chinese medicine is practiced, there is no one single credential for all practitioners.
Acupressure, acupuncture, acustimulation, acutherapy, Asian bodywork, auricular acupuncture, chi kung, Chinese herbal medicine, Chinese nutrition therapy, classical acupuncture, coining, cupping, eclectic Chinese medicine, electroacupuncture, ethnic Chinese traditional medicine, feng shui, five element acupuncture, I Ching, Japanese acupuncture, medical acupuncture, moxibustion (moxa), Qi gong, qigong, Reiki, scraping ("coining"), shiatsu, tai chi, taoism, tiji, ting sha, TCM, traditional acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine, tui na.