What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?
TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) is an ancient system of medicine originating up to 5000 years ago that has undergone constant evolution to its now modern counterpart. It is this tradition of evolution that has led to the diversity of philosophy regarding the physiology, pathology and effective treatment modalities contained within TCM. Common to all of these altering ideas is the idea of moderation; that there is no right or wrong, positive or negative, but only imbalances.
The yin and yang symbol commonly seen is fundamental to the understanding of the philosophy within TCM. Yang is the sunny side of the hill, full of life, full of heat and expanding activity, while Yin pertains to the shady side of the very same hill, full of nourishment, cold, resting and contracting. Without a balance of these factors, there cannot be health; as the insomniac becomes manic and collapses, the obese and depressed never rises.
Modern Traditional Chinese Medicine
In modern time, the service of TCM has been increasing. Different elements of TCM such as acupuncture, cupping, moxibustion, herbal medicine, tai chi, nutrition and many more have gradually been integrated into our healthcare system.
In Australia, there is a constant rise in people seeking natural medical care. In 2016 and 2017, surveys were conducted by the Australian Traditional-Medicine Society (ATMS) during natural medicine week. These surveys showcased 96.61% of participants found a form of natural medicine ‘effective or very effective’.
TCM today is the use of various natural therapy approaches to healing the body. Treatment may consist of one or a combination of acupuncture, herbal medicine, cupping therapy, lifestyle advice, tai chi, massage and moxibustion. These forms of treatment are associated with integrative medicine today.
Integrative medicine focuses on an individual and their health overall by considering all aspects of wellbeing. It combines modern western medicine with complementary medicine to achieve the best health and healing outcome for the individual and is supported by researched evidence. Focusing on the spiritual, physical, social, environmental and psychological wellbeing of an individual allows integrative medicine to use evidence-based, safe and appropriate treatments for the patient.
The efficacy of TCM is continuously being researched and updated. Every four years, the Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association (AACMA) publishes a comparative literature review on the evidence of acupuncture. The literature review provides a summary of the effectiveness of acupuncture on various conditions and the level of evidence supporting these findings.
In Australia, like Dentistry, Physiotherapy and Podiatry, TCM is a nationally registered health profession governed by AHPRA (Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency).
TCM practitioners undertake four years of full-time study at universities and colleges in Australia involving extensive clinical placement.
Like other healthcare professionals, TCM practitioners maintain accreditation with a professional association, professional indemnity insurance and undertake Continuing Professional Development activities each year to further enhance the knowledge and skillset to be able to manage a broader range of disease and conditions.
Benefits of seeing a registered health professional
By seeing a nationally registered TCM practitioner, you are working with a highly trained professional that dedicates their time to ongoing learning in their field.
This translates to more knowledgeable practitioners and better outcomes for patients.
Additionally, you will be able to claim a rebate from your health fund if you are eligible.
Types of treatment employed by TCM practitioners
Procedures used by practitioners at our clinic vary with each presentation to produce the best possible outcomes for the patient. Techniques used may include:
- Acupuncture, including electro-acupuncture and other stimulation techniques
- Cupping Therapy
- Herbal Medicine
- Remedial Massage and associated procedures
Traditional Chinese Medicine Diagnosis
The unique aspect that underpins TCM is the diagnostic methods applied to gain a complete understanding of what is happening within the body of someone who is feeling unwell. Over a millennium of continual development, there have been various schools of thought that have evolved and refined their abilities to identify illnesses, this is known as Syndrome Diagnosis.
Syndrome diagnosis involves investigating and looking into the overall picture of a patient to understand how the primary complaint fits within an integrated view. This system allows a TCM practitioner to understand and treat holistically; having the ability to create a profound change in many health conditions that have been resistant to other symptoms-based treatments.
Traditional Chinese Medicine & Western Medicine
Both of these systems have immense potential to create profound health improvements for patients.
The significant difference between these systems is the diagnostic system used to understand a problem, how Traditional Chinese medicine recognises the body and lastly, the treatment methods employed.
TCM diagnosis involves understanding all aspects of a patient holistically and utilises treatments that are designed to assist the patient to heal themselves. For healing to be optimised, the use of both symptom and syndrome diagnosis is essential.
Contrastingly, Western Medicine (WM) diagnosis focuses on an in-depth understanding of the symptom, at times utilising advanced technological tests to reveal details that will guide the physician to deliver powerful treatments designed to resolve the symptom.
With these variances in methodology, each of these systems has its strengths and weaknesses. The above is not to say that one is superior to the other but that they each have their place to improve health outcomes.
While TCM employs relatively safe methodology effective for non-emergency injuries and developed illnesses, WM utilises sophisticated technological, diagnostic techniques and treatment methods that may deal with both chronic and acute life-threatening injuries/illness.
The 4 Major diagnostic observations of Traditional Chinese Medicine
Observation – how we utilise observation, the overall presentation, at the local area, changes in the colour of the skin, deformities, muscle atrophy, and a significant observation unique to TCM is tongue diagnosis.
Listen/smelling – active listening, tone of voice, the sound of the cough, or creaking bones, any odd smells either from the breath, for example, acetone from people that maybe fasting or diabetes, even body odour type!
Questioning – thorough and straightforward questions that can help provide a bigger picture of what is causing the problem. It may start with matters relating to the condition/problem, and then from there, questions may range anywhere from your digestion, sleep, or even bowel movements
Palpation – what practitioners feel for are body temperature, fine touches are employed on the surface of the body to determine “deficiencies” or “excess”, muscle quality whether it may be stiff or weak etc. and finally a large part of diagnosis that helps practitioners of Chinese medicine is taking the pulse. Traditionally there are three positions on each arm at the wrist. Each area correlates to a particular organ within the body. The quality of the pulse can help determine the energetic level of the organs not to say that there may be something wrong with the physical organ. But it can provide insight into how the body is working together as a whole.
Scientific Evidence of Traditional Chinese Medicine
Due to outcomes of research to date, there is growing interest amongst scientific researchers in TCM, and it’s treatment modalities. In particular, there is a focus on how to do TCM techniques work and does TCM work for ‘x condition’. Research in TCM has recently become increasingly popular because it is a cost-effective solution for specific conditions and provide multiple positive health outcomes. But more importantly, like with all practises there are risks, if practised inappropriately or by a non-licenced practitioner serious harm may develop.
In 2017, the AACMA (Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association) commissioned a revised literature review of all the research conducted on Acupuncture: The Acupuncture Evidence Project, a summary of which is available here. Although research is in a constant state of development, the consensus at this stage is favourable for many conditions. Luckily, with a growing research interest, this scientific research paper is only going to become more and more specific as to what research says TCM can and can not assist.
At Evolution Medical Care, we applaud scientific insight into further understanding of treatment methods that are employed and look forward to additional high-quality research to assist health outcomes of our patients.
Acupuncture (TCM) vs Dry Needling
Acupuncture and dry needling are commonly mistaken as the same treatment practice. They both use the same type of needle; however, their theory, practice and clinical usage are different.
To become an acupuncturist and therefore perform acupuncture, it is necessary to undertake four years of full-time study explicitly focusing on Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Whereas to become a dry needler, the practitioner is usually a health professional of some sort and has undertaken a short course to learn how to perform needling techniques known as ‘dry needling’.
Dry needling is commonly used by physical therapists to improve musculoskeletal pain and range of motion. Whereas acupuncture is used by registered acupuncturist practitioners to relieve pain, improve range of motion and balance the body, mind and spirit.
With the above points in mind, it is easy to understand why an Acupuncturist can assist with a much more extensive range of health complaints than a dry needler.