What is Chinese Medicine?

What is Chinese Medicine?

Chinese medicine is a system of medicine that treats patients using a holistic and complementary approach. It has been used in China for over 2,000 years and has become increasingly popular in the West over the last four decades.Chinese medicine works on the basis that your body's natural state is one of healthiness and that internal and external factors, diet and lifestyle can cause imbalances that lead to illness. Addressing and reversing these imbalances allows the body to return back to good health naturally. Treatment is holistic, not symptomatic, meaning that the whole body is treated to return it to a balanced state, rather than just treating the symptoms and ignoring any underlying issues.

What happens during a consultation?

There are four methods of diagnosis in Chinese medicine:

  • asking the patient questions, including any symptoms and general health and lifestyle
  • listening to the patient's voice, language and respiration, as well as any unusual sounds such as coughing or bowel sounds
  • observing the patient's general figure, vitality, complexion and tongue
  • taking the patient's pulse

With this information, the practitioner will diagnose a syndrome – essentially where and how your body is imbalanced – and outline a treatment plan. Treatment may include acupuncture, moxibustion, herbal medicine, massage, cupping, guasha or dietary therapy, or a combination of different therapies.

Does Chinese medicine work?

Chinese medicine does work, but it is not an immediate fix. The length and effectiveness of the treatment really depends on the lifestyle and condition of the individual at the first visit, as all patients will have different situations which require individual attention in their treatment.Your practitioner will give you a rough guide to when you should start to see improvements and how many sessions it might take at your consultation, however it is important to remember that everyone reacts differently to treatment.

Over the last 25 years, there has been a huge growth in evidence-based clinical research carried out to investigate whether Chinese medicine can safely treat a wide range of common health problems. Most of the studies focussing on treatment with Chinese medicine were carried out in China and written in Chinese. However there is now an increasing body of research being carried out in the West using randomised controlled trials (RCT).

The World Heath Organisation lists over 90 diseases and disorders for which acupuncture has been proved through controlled trials to be an effective treatment and for which the therapeutic effect of acupuncture has been shown that also need further controlled clinical trials. This list includes:

  • allergic rhinitis, including hay fever
  • dysmenorrhoea
  • facial, knee and low back pain
  • insomnia
  • malposition of a foetus
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • postoperative pain
  • substance dependancy, including tobacco

In addition to the WHO findings, the Cochrane Collaboration, a well respected organisation that carries out and publishes systematic reviews into the effectiveness of medical treatments, has so far found evidence that acupuncture may have a beneficial effect on the following conditions:

  • chronic lower back pain
  • migraines
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • nausea and vomiting after chemotherapy
  • nausea and vomiting after surgery
  • neck pain
  • osteoarthritis
  • tension-type headaches

We have put together a series of fact sheets on conditions commonly treated with Chinese medicine to provide general information on the Chinese medicine approach to treatment and a list of clinical trials. The fact sheets have been compiled to provide accurate and unbiased information about the Chinese medical view of treatment, summarise how Chinese medicine may be beneficial, and provide a list of relevant clinical trials and articles for each of the listed conditions. As more clinical trials become available, we will update the information within the fact sheets so you have access to the most recent developments to keep yourself informed. 

Chinese medicine cannot treat all conditions and it is irresponsible to claim otherwise. A properly qualified practitioner, such as an accredited CMIR member, will discuss with you whether Chinese medicine is appropriate for your condition and what results you can reasonably expect before starting any treatment. You should not stop taking any medication without first talking to your GP.

Is Chinese medicine safe?

Chinese medicine is a very safe treatment when carried out by a fully qualified practitioner, such as an accredited CMIR member. All CMIR members must adhere to the CMIR Code of Good Practice, which defines the expected standards of competence and professionalism for CMIR members, the hygiene and safety standards relating to the practice of Chinese acupuncture and herbal medicine

Acupuncture has very few side effects when applied correctly. Only CE approved single use disposable needles should be used by practitioners.Side effects are generally minor, such as dizziness or bruising around the needle entry points, and usually resolve themselves quickly. In general, most patients find acupuncture painless, although you may feel a mild electric charge or slight stinging sensation if there is a lot of blocked energy at a particular point. It is common to feel very relaxed after treatment so it is best not to plan anything too strenous immediately after treatment. 

Chinese herbal medicine is also a very safe therapy when prescribed by a qualified practitioner. Although adverse reactions to herbs can occasionally occur, this is not a common side effect. Cupping and guasha treatments will result in bruising marks, which tend to last for several days depending on the strength of the treatment. You may be asked to sign a waiver form before your treatment to acknowledge this.