nutrition, Chinese medicine, acupuncture

Why Chinese medicine is so effective – diagnosis

When you come to see me, what can you expect at your first appointment? How will I diagnose your condition and decide what treatment approach to use? What’s the lens that I’m using to understand what changes will improve your health and rectify illness?

First, a distinction – I practice Classical Chinese Medicine (CCM), not Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM, which is what all practitioners learn in our basic schooling, is a relatively modern construct, dating from the 1950s. CCM is the older form, based on the Shang Han Lun, a medical text that dates from around 2000 BCE. The two systms are like cousins – part of the same family, but distinct systems with different ways of looking at the body.

Here’s a link to a short paper about the history of Chinese medicine by a respected scholar, Paul Unschuld – https://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736(99)90352-5.pdf 

CCM is very simple and logical. The goal is to increase function and expel disease causing factors. We do this by identifying what imbalances there are in each part of the body, and then using herbs, acupuncture, cupping and other therapies to correct them.

For example, if the lungs are full of phlegm causing shortness of breath, we clear phlegm and open the chest. If the large intestine is inflamed and constipated, we cool it down and facilitate bowel movements. If digestion is under-functioning and you are having problems with digestion, we boost digestive enzymes and gastric juices.Classical Chinese medicine divides the body into 3 levels and 3 depths. 

The three levels are –

  • Upper jiao – this includes the heart, lungs, chest, shoulders, neck, head and brain.
  • Middle jiao – the stomach and digestion. Digestion is of central importance in CCM; if the body isn’t digesting properly, then your body isn’t able to properly absorb nutrients. Digestion is one of the four pillars of health, along with sleep, stress management and exercise. I pay it a lot of attention.
  • Lower jiao – includes the large intestine, kidneys, bladder, sexual and pelvic organs, liver along with the hips, lower back and legs.

The three depths are –

  • Exterior – this includes the skin, muscles, tendons, ligiments and joints. Many pain conditions fall into this category. Arthritic pain, most muscle pain, low back pain are examples of exterior conditions.
  • Interior – these are problems with organ function. Bladder and kidney dysfunction, heart issues, problems with the brain, cognition and thinking, liver issues, digestion issues are all interior conditions.
  • Half and half conditions. This is the depth that is most difficult to conceptualize, as it doesn’t exist in other systems. The irony is that most of us have some degree of a half and half condition. Simply stated, this is the combination of poor digestion with heat in the upper part of the body. Typical symptoms include poor appetite in the morning, hot flashes, throat pain, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest, dizziness and tinnitus.

That’s basically it. Once I know at what levels and depths your imbalance is manifesting at (called pattern identification), I can choose the herbs and formulas (sets of herbs used together) that correct them. This is an important point; different than western medicines that often alleviate symptoms but don’t correct causes, in Chinese medicine, we always aim to correct the cause as well as alleviate the symptoms.

The complexity lies in the complexity that most people present with. Its very rare that a patient comes in with only one pattern. More common are the patients who have 4 or 5. We live in complex times and its so surprising that people have multiple, interlocking health issues and imbalances.

There are many reasons for these imbalances, but the most common ones are poor eating habits, inadequate sleep, chronic stress, overwork and either not enough or too much exercise. I’ll talk about these underlying causative factors in a future post.

The good news is that these patterns are most often reversible – particularly so if you are able to make adjustments to your diet and lifestyle while under care (and beyond). These changes don’t need to be onerous or difficult, though they usually take a bit of effort. The skill lies in making these adjustments in a gentle, sustainable way. Part of my job as a practitioner is to help you do so. A common mistake is to go gangbusters at the beginning but getting burnt out a couple of weeks later. Unless you’re dealing with something that needs fixing yesterday, the better approach is usually to take it slowly so that the changes are sustainable.

Often, patients come in quite a desperate condition. They know that their body isn’t functioning properly, but conventional medicine hasn’t been able to provide answers. Or the answer is a pill with side effects that needs to be taken indefinitely, which many of us are wary of.

If this describes you, please don’t despair. Chinese medicine has been looking at these types of complex health conditions for thousands of years and has devised time-tested, effective and safe therapies such as acupuncture and herbal medicine that work. You can get better. I see this everyday in my clinic.

If you have any questions as to how Classical Chinese Medicine can help you, please drop me a line or book a consult using the buttons above. I look forward to hearing from you.

As always, I wish you health and happiness.

Chris Savidge, R.Ac, R.TCMP

Chris Savidge, R.Ac, R.TCMP

Chris is a Chinese medical herbalist & acupuncturist who's passionate about helping people overcome health challenges.