Chinese Herbal Medicine (CHM) is one of the powerful treatment tools that Aus Acu Doctor’s use, in addition to Acupuncture. Both CHM and Acupuncture fall under the broad medicine known as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which also includes Electro (E-stim), Cupping, Moxibustion, Gua Sha and Tui Na.
Like conventional Western Medicine which uses diagnostic imaging, physiotherapy, pharmaceuticals and surgery, there are different tools in TCM which can be utilised depending on the case and the desired outcome. Let’s first explain briefly what TCM practitioners use to treat patients, and then expand on how CHM can help.
Acupuncture excels at moving Energy and blood in the body. In TCM, this is how we can stimulate the flow of Energy in the body’s Energy channels, known as Meridians. Part of the mechanism for Acupuncture to heal so effectively is by allowing Energy to flow and thus correcting imbalances in these Meridian’s which in turn balances our internal Energy and systems.
Electro Acupuncture, or E-Stim, is a relatively new adaption of traditional Acupuncture. E-stim involves electro-stimulation to the needles via a battery-powered unit that delivers mild pulses of electric current into the needle to stimulate more Energy flow. The frequency, intensity and pattern of the pulses delivered through the needles can be altered accordingly. It can excel at treatment of the painful conditions that are affecting the musculoskeletal system 1. The current is too mild to be felt by the patient; however muscle twitching can sometimes occur during treatment.
Cupping involves the creation of a relative vacuum over an area of skin, to draw blood, lactic and lymph waste from deep muscle and fascia and towards the outer layers of the dermis where it can be easily drained. Cupping has the effect of simulating the flow of Energy and blood in the area. It is commonly used in the treatment of many musculoskeletal complaints, and is most effective for tight muscles and clearing local stagnation from the muscular system 2.
Moxibustion (moxa) involves the burning of the herb, Artemesia Vulgaris (commonly known as mugwort or moxa), either on or near the acupuncture points of the body. Moxa stimulates Energy and blood flow, warms the interior and helps release cold and ‘damp’ from the internal Energy flow. It is most useful in treating situations of deficient Energy (or “Yang”), or in any condition where TCM “Cold” (a Chinese description, causing disease) is a predominant feature 3. Because of this, moxa can be used in the treatment of arthritis, digestive issues, gynaecological complaints and protection against the common cold and flu, amongst others. Aus Acu chooses not to utilise moxa in our clinics due to the strong smoke and smell which are present during its burning. Instead, we use Far Infra-Red (FIR) lamps to generate a similar therapeutic warmth where needed.
Gua Sha and Tui Na are massage techniques used by TCM practitioners. Gua Sha is performed by rubbing a smooth-edged tool, such as a jade stone, across the skin. A positive response is reddening of the skin showing the movement of oxygenated blood upwards. This can indicate a reduction in heat and inflammation, bringing relief of pain from the deeper levels of the body 3. Tui Na is an ancient massage therapy which involves rigorous manipulation of muscle and fascia using the practitioner’s hands. More diagnostic and specific than Western massage, Tui Na can deliver quick and effective results to pain, tension and help clear blocked areas. Gua Sha and Tui Na are commonly used for musculoskeletal complaints, but also have their uses in the treatment of other conditions such as colds/flus, headaches, indigestion and other complaints as shown in Ancient Chinese Medicine theory.
Finally, Chinese Herbal Medicine (CHM) is possibly the strongest and most well respected tool of TCM available for the Chinese Medicine practitioner. Its history in China can be traced back at least 5,000 years, making it one of the oldest health care systems in the world 4.
Chinese Herbal Medicines are mainly plant based, however a few are formed from mineral substances. They can be packaged as powders/granules, pastes, lotions or tablets, depending on the herbs and the intended use. Granulated herbs, such as those prescribed at Aus Acu, are very effective and the form of choice of many practitioners due to their strength and power. Also, granulated formulas are in an easy-to-take form (simply add to warm water and drink), so patient compliance is higher which brings greater results.
CHM is based on the same theory and principles of Acupuncture. This includes a holistic approach to understanding normal function and disease processes, and a strong focus on the prevention of illness. Acupuncture and CHM complement each other so well, that when combining herbs with regular Acupuncture, patients can usually gain the best possible outcomes.
It is important to remember that although two people present with the same condition (such as fatigue), the way it presents in each individual can be completely different. The underlying cause of the condition can be very different as well, meaning there is not a single herbal formula for something that has been medically diagnosed as a condition.
It may be tempting, convenient and inexpensive to purchase formulas off the shelf via your health food store or even chemist, but the strength and prescription will not be perfectly suited to your case. In almost all cases, you are better off visiting your CHM practitioner for a compounded formula, as you will notice effects in just a week or two.
A registered Chinese Medicine Herbalist can prescribe, modify and even put together a Chinese herbal formula together from scratch (by combining different single herbs). This enables practitioners to make a unique formula that is tailored to an individual – one which accurately matches and treats the way the disease presents. Because of this, herbalists require a more detailed case history through asking various questions, with emphasis given to the pulse and observation of the tongue (as per TCM theory). Treatment can be modified as the condition improves by modifying the composition of the herbal formula until the desired outcome is achieved.
In addition to treating a large range of health disorders 4, CHM can also be used to assist with general health maintenance and disease prevention. By enhancing and promoting normal body functions, the immune system is boosted and so too is a general sense of well-being 5.
It is important to visit a qualified and registered practitioner. If used incorrectly, herbal medicines can interact negatively with drug medications, and can even cause damage to the liver if taken in dosages that are outside safe perimeters. Some herbs can also be toxic when prescribed incorrectly.
So, in the same way you would not take pharmaceutical medicine without visiting the doctor, do not take CHM unless it is prescribed by a qualified Chinese herbalist. At Aus Acu, our CHM practitioners are registered with AHPRA, CMBA and AACMA, meaning they have Masters level qualifications in Chinese Herbal Medicine and the correct ongoing education to safely and effectively use CHM for our patients.
For more information, please visit us and discuss your options for treatment with CHM.
- Murotani, T, Ishizuka, T, Nakazawa, H, Wang, X, Mori, K, Sasaki, K, Ishida, T & Yamatodani, A, 2010, ‘Possible involvement of histamine, dopamine and noradrenalin in the periaqueductal gray in electroacupuncture pain relief’, Brain Research, vol. 1306, p. 62-68.
- Lee, M, Kim, J & Ernst, E, 2011, ‘Is Cupping an Effective Treatment? An Overview of Systematic Reviews’, Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies, vol. 4, no. 1, p. 1-4.
- Legge, D, 2011, Close to the Bone, 3rd edn, Sydney College Press, Sydney.
- Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association (AACMA), http://www.acupuncture.org.au/AcupunctureandChinesemedicine/ChineseHerbalMedicine.aspx
- Benny, T & Vanitha, J, 2004, ‘Immunomodulatory and Antimicrobial Effects of Some Traditional Chinese Medicinal Herbs: A Review’, Current Medicinal Chemistry, vol. 11, no. 11, p. 1423-1430.