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The 5 Modalities of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Updated on October 30, 2012

When you think about Chinese medicine, what things come to mind? Most people think specifically about only one area of Chinese medicine, usually either herbal cures or acupuncture. That is because these are the most widely publicized aspects of Chinese medicine that people are aware of in Western culture. However, what you will come to understand if you study Traditional Chinese Medicine (also known as TCM) is that this is a medical approach that uses a variety of different methods to increase health.

Traditional Chinese Medicine takes a holistic approach to healing. This means that it doesn’t just look at one cure for a condition. Instead, this approach to medicine looks at a wide range of different life factors that could be impacting the health of the individual. Cures that are offered by practitioners of TCM can include everything from herbal cures to lifestyle changes. This holistic approach is one that Westerners are increasingly interested in as we come to understand that there are often multiple underlying causes for the physical ailments that afflict us.

Although Traditional Chinese Medicine might incorporate many, many different types of healing, there are five basic modalities that are generally considered the core healing aspects of TCM. Those five modalities are:

1.     Chinese Herbal Medicine. This is the most popular form of TCM practiced in Western cultures. It relies on a variety of different herbs and medications to help cure various ailments. There are over five thousand different herbs that have been used for centuries by traditional Chinese medicine healers. These herbs may work alone or they may be prescribed in specific combinations to resolve various medical problems. For example, ginger is used alone as a cure for nausea whereas other ailments may require more complex combinations of a variety of different herbs. It is most common for the herbs to be brewed into a Chinese herbal tea and consumed as a drink that is taken 1-3 times per day as prescribed by the doctor. Many Westerners prefer these teas to Western prescription medications because they have fewer side effects and yet may produce the same beneficial results.

2.     Changes to Diet. Although herbal teas are the dietary supplement that most people are familiar with, Traditional Chinese Medicine actually does take a holistic approach to healing through diet. There is an entire science to diet as practiced in Traditional Chinese medicine. In addition to making sure that a diet offers the proper nutrition, a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner will balance out the energy of the foods in your diet so that you aren’t eating too many cold foods or too many hot foods. Eating locally grown foods is another aspect of this dietary therapy. Working with your practitioner, you will create a diet that not only heals your immediate ailments but also results in long-term health.

3.     Acupuncture. In addition to herbal medication, another main modality of Traditional Chinese Medicine that is very common to see used by people in Western culture is acupuncture. As you probably already know, this involves inserting thin needles into specific points in the body. The goal of this treatment is to rebalance the energy in your body. Notably, there are several different acupuncture techniques that you will want to discuss with a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner before moving forward with this treatment.

4.     Medical Massage (also called Tui Na). In addition to the bodywork that is done through acupuncture, there is also medical massage practiced in Traditional Chinese Medicine. In many ways, this massage is similar to acupressure. It uses the same pressure points that are used in acupuncture but relies on massage therapy to stimulate the energy through these areas rather than using the needles used in acupuncture treatment. This is a hands-on body treatment that may be used to cure muscle aches (as with regular massage) but is generally designed to stimulate and balance the flow of energy in the body in order to promote total healing.

5.     Qigong. This is a specific type of energy healing and exercise that is practiced in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Combined with acupuncture and medical massage, this provides a well-rounded physical approach to healing the body. This form of exercise is a slow, stretching exercise that focuses as much on the inside of the body (through breathing and meditation) as it does on the outside of the body (through stretching). This is believed to have a wide range of different health benefits (much like yoga). This may be done alone (in a hands-off method) or with the assistance of your Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner (in a hands-on method). As with the other modalities, this can be used to cure immediate problems but is generally considered to be part of an overall health plan used to improve health and wellbeing throughout the course of the patient’s lifetime.

People who are interested in Traditional Chinese Medicine will find that there are many different places in the Western World where they can get assistance with one of these modalities. For example, a local herbalist can help to provide the right herbal teas and medications for curing various illnesses. Likewise, an acupuncturist can provide assistance in this particular modality. However, it is not nearly as easy to find a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner who takes the true holistic approach to healing, incorporating all of these different modalities to improve physical health. It’s worth taking the time to look for such a practitioner if you truly wish to receive the healing benefits of this form of medicine.




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  • profile image


    4 years ago

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    4 years ago

    This aritcle went ahead and made my day.

  • katiem2 profile image

    Katie McMurray 

    9 years ago from Westerville

    Qigong is a very interesting subject. Good Hub and I hope to hear more about Qigong... Peace :)

  • GojiJuiceGoodness profile image


    9 years ago from Roanoke, Virginia

    I can't say I know a lot about TCM, so this hub is very helpful. I know goji berries are a part of TCM, but that's about it. Thanks for this great hub!


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