The Tools of Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine is a fascinating and varied science. Having evolved over thousands of years, some aspects of the art may be considered somewhat esoteric in nature due to their early origins and perceptions of practitioners a the time. However, Chinese medicine is a complete medical system that involves the use of methods such as herbalism, acupuncture, cupping, moxibustion and massage.

A Closer Look at the Tools

Chinese Herbalism

When we talk about Chinese medicine one often thinks of the prescription of weird and wonderful herbs and potions that are often foul-smelling and even worse tasting. While this is often the case, Chinese herbalism is only one part of Chinese medicine.

The use of plants for medicinal purposes have been used for centuries by many cultures around the world. The Chinese are no different and have a complete system of healing by use of herbs and various substances that are found naturally in nature.

The main differences between Chinese herbalism and that of other herbalistic traditions are in the way that illness is observed, diagnosed and therefore the reasons for the eventual prescriptions of the remedies that are used. Chinese herbalism uses the principles of Chinese medicine understand, diagnose and treat disease. These principles are typically those of yin-yang theory, five elements, channel theory (Jing Luo), the six climatic influences and the use of an individual’s constitutional birth chart.

Another difference in Chinese herbalism is in the herbs and substances that are used. Mostly, substances found in China are used. However, Chinese herbalism also uses other non-plant based materials such as deer antler and even Tiger penis to have a curative effect.


Acupuncture is a practice that is fast becoming popular in the West. With it’s origins dating back to around the first century BC, acupuncture is a solid part of Chinese medicine and is a complete medical system in itself.

The principles of acupuncture are also based on those of Chinese medicine. However, with this system, needles are used instead of herbs in order to bring about a curative effect. A primary principle of acupuncture is that of the channel system, know in Chinese as the Jing Luo. This theory states that the body is formed of a complex network of channels and pathways that traverse different regions of the body. Along the pathways are located points, which, when stimulated can trigger certain reactions in the body to bring about good health.

Many Chinese medicine practitioners choose to study acupuncture alone and make it their primary model for treating a patient. See here for our recommended acupuncture course.

an acupuncture needle in the skin


Cupping is an interesting technique often used in Chinese medicine. During this practice either glass cups of bamboo, pots are most commonly used. The practitioner will momentarily insert a flame inside the cup and then quickly place it on the area of the body that needs attention. The flame inside the cup creates a vacuum, and thus, a sucking effect on the body part to which it is applied.

The theory behind the use of cupping is that it can help to withdraw or extract any invasive pathogenic factors that may have entered the body. In Chinese medicine, this is typically looked at regarding the invasion of cold, damp, heat or wind. For example, one use of cupping may be in the area of the upper back to help to move and draw out mucous and phlegm (damp) in a person suffering from a chest infection. Cupping can also be used for muscle knots and stiffness and also in conditions of blood stagnation.

Cupping is not solely used in Chinese medicine. Many countries around the world have used this practice and dates back many hundreds of years.


Moxibustion is a technique that involves the use of a herb know as mugwort, which has been processed to become a sponge-like substance known as moxa. Moxa is then employed in several ways. One commonly used method of moxibustion by acupuncturists is by attaching pieces of it to the end of acupuncture needles and set fire to. As the moxa smoulders, it generates heat that is transmitted down the shaft of the needle and into the acupuncture point, which in tern, heats up the pertaining acupuncture channel and respective body part.

Moxa is also used topically on the skin, usually placed upon slices of ginger to act as a barrier between the skin and the moxa, so the heat will be transmitted without burning the patient. A practitioner may also apply moxa heat topically with the use of a rolled moxa stick; a cigar-like roll that is heated and held inches away from the afflicted area.


Massage techniques are also commonly used by a Chinese medicine practitioner. Typically, the massage technique known as Tui Na will be employed. Tui Na uses gentle techniques to stretch and knead afflicted areas of the body. The use of Tui Na massage can help to promote blood flow, free stiff joints, relax stiff muscles and free trapped nerves. Altogether, Tui Na is an efficient system to help restore good health and well-being to the patient.

This entry was posted in Chinese Medicine, Natural Medicine and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.