What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?

Avatar for Mish Khot By in acupuncture, acupuncture in australia, japanese acupuncture, Medical acupuncture, traditional acupuncture on 24/02/2020
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If you’ve ever received acupuncture, had a gua sha massage, or treated a cold with Chinese herbal tea, you’ve experienced the healing benefits of TCM.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an alternative medicine system that originated in China a few thousand years ago. TCM works on the principle that the human body contains a vital energy that flows through channels or meridians in the body, and that any ailment is a sign of imbalance in the energy, or a disruption in the flow. Most treatments aim at rebalancing the energy, opening up blocked pathways, and creating an environment in which the energy can heal the body.


TCM includes a range of therapies, treatments, and natural medicines such as:

  • Acupuncture
  • Cupping
  • Massage
  • Qi Gong
  • Tai Chi
  • Gua Sha
  • Herbal medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in Australia

Many of the therapies of TCM have made their way into the Western world, and into our daily lives, but acupuncture is possibly the best-known of them all.

In Australia, TCM is a popular alternative therapy, and a qualified TCM practitioner is considered a primary contact health care professional.  Most practitioners are certified in acupuncture or herbal medicine, or both. There is a growing demand for practitioners to work in hospitals and health centres, offering complementary services to clients receiving treatment. For example, patients undergoing chemotherapy may be recommended acupuncture to help with the nausea.

Acupuncture in Australia

Medical acupuncture is a popular treatment for multiple health issues, and those who receive it regularly report great progress. An acupuncturist places very fine needles into the skin at specific trigger points to open up the flow of energy and release healing energy. The most common ailments for which acupuncture is considered effective are chronic back pain, migraines, stress-related headaches, fibromyalgia, and arthritis.

Acupuncture in Australia is stringently regulated. Practitioners who are accredited by the Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association (AACMA) are held to a Code of Ethics, and must clear all professional and academic requirements. In addition, the Chinese Medicine Board of Australia has a national registration and accreditation scheme under which all practitioners must register.

How safe is TCM?

There are certain types of therapy or treatment under TCM that are considered safer than others, or have been the subject of more studies and regulations. The medical community is divided over the power and scientific background of TCM, but agree that treatment like medical acupuncture, if performed correctly, can help with pain-related conditions or nausea.

Medical acupuncture in Australia is regulated and requires certification. In 2005, the Northern Hospital in Melbourne started offering acupuncture in its Emergency Department – the busiest ward in Victoria – to help treat incoming patients manage pain and nausea.

The practice of Qi Gong and Tai Chi, both exercise and breathing routines, are considered safe, as are massage therapies like gua sha and reflexology.

Cupping therapy is another popular treatment under TCM, and is considered effective in managing inflammation and pain. In this treatment, a flammable substance is burned in a bamboo or silicone cup, and then quickly inverted onto your skin when the flames die out, with the cooling air creating a vacuum. Your skin will be pulled gently upwards. Some practitioners use a fine scalpel to make thin incisions into your skin after cupping to draw blood. Both cupping and massage, if performed by a qualified and experienced professional, are considered safe, helpful for short-term wellness, and to some extent for pain management.

The category of Chinese herbal medicine in TCM is possibly the most hotly debated area of TCM. It uses a wide variety of herbs, but also involves animal products and minerals. With no regulations for such ingredients, there may be significant short- and long-term risks associated with Chinese herbal medicine. In addition, traditional herbal concoctions used the body parts of animals that are now endangered, which raises environmental and poaching concerns.

Is it effective?

In 2017, the AACMA commissioned The Acupuncture Evidence Project which revealed that acupuncture is effective in 117 conditions.

The conditions with strong evidence include allergic rhinitis, knee osteoarthritis, vomiting and nausea caused by chemotherapy, chronic lower back pain, migraines, repetitive stress injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome, and tension headaches.

There is moderate evidence to suggest that acupuncture is effective for neck pain, anxiety, adult asthma, stress disorders, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, constipation, etc.

Tai Chi has been found effective in improving stability and balance for those with Parkinson’s, and helps pain management for those with knee osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and back pain. It has also been found to improve the mood and quality of life in patients with heart failure or cancer.  

There are not enough studies to prove its efficacy, although it has been tried by celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Aniston, Victoria Beckham, and Justin Bieber.

Is Japanese acupuncture different from Chinese acupuncture?

Japanese acupuncture actually originated in China, but the Japanese have adapted it to their wellness and health beliefs, and it has been practiced with some changes in Japan.

Use and type of needles: Japanese acupuncture uses needles that are even finer and sharper than Chinese needles, which means that the process is gentler. Chinese acupuncture inserts needles deeper, which some believe to be more effective, while Japanese acupuncture inserts needles into just the upper surface of the skin.

Use of complementary medicines with acupuncture: Chinese acupuncture may include the use of herbs, but Japanese acupuncturists do not traditionally offer herbal medicine with acupuncture. However, Japanese acupuncture begins with moxibustion, which is the burning of herbs near the section to be treated.

In terms of efficacy, both have their fan followings. Some people swear that the deeper needling of of Chinese acupuncture helps the flow of qi, while some prefer the lighter touch of Japanese acupuncture.

Should I try TCM?

There are some cases in which you should not try TCM. If you are about to undergo surgery or any major medical or surgical treatment, refrain from trying alternative therapies as they may interfere with the drugs or procedures planned. If you are pregnant or nursing, do discuss any treatments with your doctor before booking an appointment. If you are taking prescription medication for chronic conditions, please discuss your options with your doctor.

And lastly, TCM is considered more of a complementary medicine, and is not to be tried on its own for serious health problems or diseases like cancer.

If you’re thinking of trying TCM, Avaana.com can help you find a practitioner near you.

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Mishana Khot is a fiction author and co-founder of The Great Next, an adventure travel company. She has been featured in National Geographic, Forbes magazine, and other publications, and has over 15 years of experience with health, travel, and lifestyle brands.

Avatar for Mish Khot

Mishana Khot is a fiction author and co-founder of The Great Next, an adventure travel company. She has been featured in National Geographic, Forbes magazine, and other publications, and has over 15 years of experience with health, travel, and lifestyle brands.

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