What Can Chinese Medicine Treat?
Though this is a seemingly simple question, there are many difficulties to giving a short, accurate answer. To understand this difficulty keep in mind that acupuncture, as a medical modality, has been around for thousands of years. Over this time, acupuncturists have seen numerous illnesses, in countless variations, in billions of patients. The diagnostic and treatment theories developed in response to this clinical reality have needed to become extremely rich and complex.
Also bear in mind that Chinese medical physicians, the practitioners of acupuncture, were the primary care physicians for the Chinese people right up until modern times. They saw and treated everything, from common colds to viral infections, from mild depression to schizophrenia.
When one asks what acupuncture or Chinese medicine can treat, there are two general answers. On the one hand, the question addresses what the system is capable of effectively treating. On the other hand, there is the more immediately useful question of what the 'average' acupuncturist in the U.S. can effectively handle.
For the first, what the system can handle, it is much easier to say what it is not suited for (and I am actually speaking about acupuncture when used in conjunction with Chinese herbal medicine, as is commonly practiced). Generally speaking, this is not the system of medicine to seek out for acute emergency medical needs. If there is an immediately life-threatening condition, or severe trauma, don't call your acupuncturist, at least not right away. Emergency medicine is modern Western medicine's greatest strength compared to classical Chinese medicine. Emergency rooms are ideal for saving lives. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine are better suited for follow-up care and recovery.
Secondly, though the world's first surgeon was Chinese (Hua Tuo), we no longer do surgery. Again, this is an area where modern technology shines.
Beyond emergency medicine and surgery, Chinese medicine may be a highly effective and safe treatment option and should be consulted early on in any illness.
For the second half of the response, what the 'average' modern practitioner can treat, we can look primarily at what has been formally recognized. Below, I've compiled a list of strengths of Chinese medicine in a modern clinical setting. This information is rooted primarily in information from the World Health Organization, with a few additions from my own clinical experience.
(Note - These are necessarily generalities. There is no guarantee of treatment outcome of any medical system for any disorder. For specific, individualized information, contact a professional practitioner.)
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Chronic degenerative diseases and illness rooted in organ/system weakness (hypofunctioning, deterioration, etc.)
Chinese medicine has the ability to strengthen the body and actively facilitate a return to proper functioning (this is, in fact, the fundamental idea behind Chinese medicine)
Non-physical (i.e. functional) disorders
Chinese medicine has the popular reputation of being able to effectively diagnose and treat conditions that its Western
counterpart is unable to locate or isolate (this is due to the fundamental differences in underlying
paradigms; Western medicine being a materialistic medicine (focusing, primarily, on tangible, material structures), it is often weaker in being able to detect illnesses not rooted in concrete structure).
Chinese medicine and acupuncture are widely recognized for the ability to effectively treat pain of many different types and
Though termed differently due to differences in clinical theories, Chinese herbal medicine has been effectively treating
infections of all sorts, bacterial and viral, for centuries.
Chinese medicine has a long history of effectively dealing with emotional disorders of many types. In modern times Chinese medicine
may be an ideal option to psychiatric care, where talk therapy isn't practical or powerful enough and pharmaceuticals are limited to controlling symptoms.
Due to Chinese medicine being founded on holistic theories, mind and body are treated as varying manifestations of the same underlying reality, not as separate entities. This enables the medicine to diagnose and treat 'mental' disorders via the physical body, and vice versa.
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Specific Disorders Treated
1) Ear, Nose, and Throat -
Toothache, pain after tooth extraction, earaches, sinus and nasal inflammation or dryness, TMJ, sore throat, rhinitis, acute tonsillitis
2) Respiratory Disorders -
Uncomplicated bronchial asthma, frequent colds, the common cold, allergies
3) Gastrointestinal Disorders -
Problems of the digestive tract, stomach inflammation, chronic, duodenal ulcers, inflammation of the colon, constipation, diarrhea, dysentery caused by certain bacteria
4) Gynecological Disorders -
Menstrual disorders (painful, delayed, absent, heavy, frequent, irregular menses), PMS, menopause, infertility
5) Mental/Emotional Disorders -
Depression, anxiety, grief, hypomania
6) Eye disorders -
Inflammation of the conjunctiva, inflammation of the central retina, uncomplicated cataracts
7) Nervous system and Muscular Disorders -
Headaches, migraines, certain facial paralysis or nerve pain, partial weakness after a stroke, inflammation of the nerve endings, bed wetting, frozen shoulder, tennis elbow, sciatica, low back pain, osteoarthritis, trigeminal neuralgia
8) Heart Disorders -
Palpitations, high blood pressure
9) Other -
Fatigue, auto-immune diseases, cysts and tumors, urinary tract infections, insomnia
- From tcm.health-info.org, with extensive citations
- AcuBriefs.com - A searchable database for research
- PubMed - A service of the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, searchable for research on acupuncture and Chinese medicine
- Society for Acupuncture Research