Traditional Chinese Medical Theory
Common Terms Used in Chinese Medicine
Deficiency: typically refers to deficient amounts of Qi, Blood, and Essence in the body.
Excess: typically when heat builds up in the body, often resulting from stagnation; the most common excess due to stagnation is Liver Qi Stagnation leading to Liver Heat.
- True excess would be a high fever due to an external pathogen. One other Excess that commonly leads to imbalances would be toxin building up in the body. Dampness accumulating in the body will also create stagnation and an Excess Heat condition.
- There is also false heat in Chinese medicine as seen in Yin Deficient patterns.
What is Qi or Chi?
Qi or Chi (pronounced "chee") is the vital energy providing us with animation, warmth, and the ability to manifest mentally. In acupuncture, the Qi is manipulated through acupuncture points. Qi must be in constant movement, and must move in the correct direction for good health. Where Qi goes, Blood follows, so manipulating Qi increases Blood circulation. Learn more about Qi theory here!
Stagnation of Qi and Blood
Stagnation is a term used in Chinese medicine when Blood and Qi are not moving freely through the channels creating blocks of energy that lead to pain and disease. The body seems motionless when we are at rest, however, internally there is a constant fluid motion in the body; the interstitial fluid is constantly ebbing and flowing throughout the tissue in a wave-like motion, tissue is constantly breaking down and rebuilding, and blood is flowing relentlessly through the vessels. All of this takes place without pause along with hundreds of other actions until we cease to exist on this Earth. Learn more about Blood Stagnation here!
Qi Deficiency can be indicated by coldness, muscles weakness, or an overall lethargic feeling. Because Qi is supplied largely by air, food, and tonic herbs, it is typically quick to replenish. However, when the organ systems that refine Qi in the body from these sources are damaged or deficient, it takes longer to correct the situation.
Blood Deficiency manifests as dry skin, hair loss, or reduced flexibility in the joints. Blood depends on nutrients, and thus herbs, foods, and other supplements are required to replace blood. As discussed in the Substances, Blood Deficiency becomes more common as we age.
As mentioned above, Blood and Qi must move unimpeded through the Channels and vessels to maintain a healthy, pain-free body. It is only when there is stagnation of the Blood and Qi that we experience pain. This stagnation can be caused by trauma obviously, but is often caused by a deficiency of Blood and Qi, toxins, or emotional blocks. In the case of deficiency, you need only visualize a rocky creek that has almost run dry; it is difficult to move a stream that does not have sufficient water. Likewise, you cannot move Blood and Qi if you are deficient of Blood and Qi.
Liver Energetic Organ Theory
The Liver controls the smooth flow of Qi throughout the body which is crucial to the health of all of the organ systems in the body. Because the Liver has such a great impact on all bodily functions, it is often associated with many different disease patterns and can even be the root cause of many diseases. There are several causes of Liver Qi Stagnation including Liver Blood Deficiency and emotional stress. Learn more about Liver Qi Stagnation here!
Spleen Energetic Organ Theory
Spleen Qi Deficiency is a common imbalance that is closely related to Qi Deficiency as described above, but may also include indications of Internal Dampness, prolapses, or digestive disorders. Rather than a large lymph gland as seen in western medicine, the Spleen energetic organ system of Chinese medicine describes a complex functional system that controls the "transportation and transformation of foods and fluids". Learn more about the Spleen and Internal Dampness here!
More Theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine
- Acu-point, Channels, & Point Indications Theory
- Herbal Medicine Theory
- Causes of Disease Theory
- Internal Wind Theory
- Gu Syndrome Theory
- Causes of Pain Theory
- Yin Yang Theory
- Five Element Theory
- Organ Pattern Theory
- Kidney Yin Theory
- Kidney Yang Theory
- Essence or Jing Theory
- Qi Theory
- Blood Theory
- Spirit or Shen Theory
- TCM Nutrition Theory and Dietary Therapy
- Muscle Regions and Location of Pain with Associated Channels
Traditional Chinese medical theory is a vast subject. Western medicine tends to discard theories and come up with better theories over time. This was not the case as the Chinese found each theory had value and a foundation in universal truth. Therefore, all of the theories developed over thousands of years were kept and new theories added as time went on. This can be confounding to the Chinese medicine student as some of the theories contradict other theories. As one deepens her knowledge of Chinese medicine you find that one theory may be better to use for a specific medical condition or complex diagnosis than another. This results in more treatment options to consider.
Traditional Chinese medicine is truly the original "functional" medicine and considers the inter-relationships of the body and energetic organ systems. The most useful aspect of this ancient system of medicine is that one is able to asses the root causes or imbalances that have led to symptoms and diseases. Because of this, herbal, acupuncture, acupressure, essential oils, food therapy, and other natural healing modalities can be used with great precision once a diagnostic pattern is formed.
While an ancient healing system, Chinese medicine is proving to be relevant and useful in our modern times. Finding that medications not only come with side-effects but possibly unintended societal tragedy, Chinese medicine is quickly finding its way in to western hospitals and integrated clinics. As our founder Dr. Browne has discovered while practicing at various hospitals providing Chinese medical care, the challenge is to educate the general patient population about Chinese medicine. Most patients in these setting are referred for pain, PTSD, and other conditions and are still looking for that illusive "silver bullet" or quick-fix. Amending unrealistic expectations is a challenge as it is human nature to hold hopes of immediate relief, even with chronic health conditions and chronic pain conditions.
This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Lu, A. P., Jia, H. W., Xiao, C., & Lu, Q. P. (2004). Theory of traditional Chinese medicine and therapeutic method of diseases. World journal of gastroenterology, 10(13), 1854–1856. https://doi.org/10.3748/wjg.v10.i13.1854
Zhang, H. Y., Wang, H. L., Zhong, G. Y., & Zhu, J. X. (2018). Molecular mechanism and research progress on pharmacology of traditional Chinese medicine in liver injury. Pharmaceutical biology, 56(1), 594–611. https://doi.org/10.1080/13880209.2018.1517185
Zheng, X., Wu, F., Lin, X., Shen, L., & Feng, Y. (2018). Developments in drug delivery of bioactive alkaloids derived from traditional Chinese medicine. Drug delivery, 25(1), 398–416. https://doi.org/10.1080/10717544.2018.1431980
Tsai, M. Y., Chen, S. Y., & Lin, C. C. (2017). Theoretical basis, application, reliability, and sample size estimates of a Meridian Energy Analysis Device for Traditional Chinese Medicine Research. Clinics (Sao Paulo, Brazil), 72(4), 254–257. https://doi.org/10.6061/clinics/2017(04)10
Wang, Y., Wang, Q., Li, C., Lu, L., Zhang, Q., Zhu, R., & Wang, W. (2017). A Review of Chinese Herbal Medicine for the Treatment of Chronic Heart Failure. Current pharmaceutical design, 23(34), 5115–5124. https://doi.org/10.2174/1381612823666170925163427
Sun, L., Mao, J. J., Vertosick, E., Seluzicki, C., & Yang, Y. (2018). Evaluating Cancer Patients' Expectations and Barriers Toward Traditional Chinese Medicine Utilization in China: A Patient-Support Group-Based Cross-Sectional Survey. Integrative cancer therapies, 17(3), 885–893. https://doi.org/10.1177/1534735418777117
Xu, Q., Bauer, R., Hendry, B. M., Fan, T. P., Zhao, Z., Duez, P., Simmonds, M. S., Witt, C. M., Lu, A., Robinson, N., Guo, D. A., & Hylands, P. J. (2013). The quest for modernisation of traditional Chinese medicine. BMC complementary and alternative medicine, 13, 132. https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6882-13-132