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A headache, the common cold, a sprained ankle, and even food poisoning, can be treated by traditional Chinese medicine.

Chinese & Western Medicine

Anyone can benefit from traditional medicine, and it is best used with an open mind. Here are some examples of the different approaches taken by modern medicine and traditional medicine for common ailments.

Headaches & Migraines

HeadacheHeadaches and migraines are the most common neurological conditions in the developed world. More than 45 million U.S. citizens suffer from chronic headaches each year, according to statistics cited by the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine.

Conventional approach:

The most common treatment for headaches in Western medicine is the use of NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs). NSAIDs serve to block pain and inflammation.

Short-term use has shown to provide temporary relief. Long-term use, however, can lead to secondary effects such as nausea, heartburn, liver stress, and “rebound” headaches, according to the Oxford Medical Dictionary, the American Family Physician, and other medical publications.

Chinese traditional approach:

In traditional Chinese medicine, herbs are used to treat headaches (see which herbs in table below).

These herbs serve to calm the liver, dispel pathogens, and unblock meridians. The types of herbs used depend on whether the headache is caused by external or internal influences.

External influences include environmental factors, such as wind, resulting in pressure to the sinuses and disturbing the flow of blood and qi to the head.

Internal influences are caused by the internal imbalance of liver yin and yang qi.

Chinese traditional medicine also classifies symptoms into hot and cold.

Cold symptoms caused by wind (classified as wind-cold) are characterized by strong chills, wheezing, and the inability to sweat; wind-cold symptoms commonly occur during winter and spring.

Hot symptoms caused by wind (classified as wind-heat) are characterized by congestion, runny nose, swollen glands, fever, and usually occur during summer and autumn.

The types of herbs used, along with the pain types, are listed below.

External Type Pain Type Herb What It Does
Wind Cold
  • Pain in back of the head
  • Tight neck and shoulders
  • Aversion to cold
  • Nasal congestion
川芎茶调丸Chuan Xiong Cha Tiao Wan
(+ Green Tea)
Drives wind from the head, clears heat, relieves ache and prevents the condition from penetrating deeper into the body
Wind Heat
  • Severe headache
  • Fever, Sore throat, thirst, rapid pulse
银翘解毒片Yin Qiao Jie Tu Pian Halts the invasion of pathogenic influences and relieves the associated symptoms

Source: ActiveHerb

Internal Type Pain Type Cause Herb What It Does
Liver Yang Qi rising to the head (most common)
  • Throbbing pain on sides of the head / behind eyes
  • Dizziness, irritability, nausea
  • Anger / Frustation
  • Long term deficiency of liver Yin Qi
天麻芶藤飲Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin Balances liver Qi
Liver Fire As above, plus the below symptoms:

  • Red face and eyes
  • Red tongue with yellow coat
  • Severe anger
  • Extreme heat
龙胆泻肝丸Long Dan Xie Gan Wan Purges heat from the liver

Source: ActiveHerb

Acupuncture can also be used. The pain is frequently relieved within minutes. The points used are listed below.

Acupuncture Point Location
Hegu – 合谷 (LI4) * On the top side of the hand, on the web between thumb and index finger.
Fengchi – 风池 (GB20) At the base of the skull, at the top of the back of the neck, in the soft depressions.
Taiyang – 太阳 (EX-HN5) Located at the tender depression in the temple area – just lateral to both the outer canthus of the eye.
Touwei – 头维 (ST8) On both sides of the scalp, 0.5 cun above the hairline at the corner of the forehead.

Source: How Stuff Works

The Common Cold

Common ColdIn the course of a year, individuals in the United States suffer 1 billion colds combined. Globally, the number and impact is larger.

Conventional approach:

In conventional medicine, rest and fluid intake is prescribed along with cold remedies, including decongestants, and antihistamines. These remedies do not cure the common cold, but rather alleviate the symptoms.

Chinese traditional approach:

In traditional chinese medicine, plant based medicines are used to induce sweating. It seeks to expel the pathogens through the sweat.

Pungent herbs target the lungs and are used to generate sweat, as well as to direct and vitalise qi and the blood. Pungent herbs are one of the five tastes used to classify chinese herbs. The other tastes are sweet, sour, bitter, and salty

Depending on the patient’s symptoms, the traditional chinese medical doctor will observe the warm or cold patterns of the cold and prescribe the herbs accordingly.

Warm and cold patterns, in the context of Traditional Chinese Medicine, refers to the yin and yang aspects of a disease and does not necessarily refer to the environment .

Cold conditions are characterised with the sensation of coldness, a lowered immune response, lowered/static metabolic activity, a chill, and a reduction in the speed of healing. Hot conditions are associated with excessive metabolic activity, fever, or inflammatory conditions. Cold symptoms improve with warming herbs; hot conditions improve with cooling herbs.

The acute cold is considered a yang condition, which is characterized by increased fever, increase pulse rate, and increased thirst. Conversely, yin conditions are characterized by decreased metabolic activity, little or no fever, and the loss of energy; chronic bronchitis, for example, is a yin condition.

Plant-Based Medicinal Types Plant Types
Warm + Pungent
  • Ephedra (麻黄)
  • Perilla leaf (苏叶)
  • Perilla stem (苏梗)
  • Fresh ginger (生姜)
  • Saposhnikovia root (防风)
  • Scallion bulball (葱根)
Cool + Pungent
  • Peppermint (薄荷)
  • Bupleurum (柴胡)
  • Chrysanthemum flower (菊花)

Honeysuckle and Forsythia Powder (银翘散 yin qiao san) can also be used. It is used primarily for wind-heat colds. This formula has been around for hundreds of years and has a proven track record for treating colds and flu. It has also been extensively researched with modern Western methods confirming its effectiveness.

Food Poisoning

Stomach AcheAccording to the Department of Statistics, Malaysia, food poisoning incidences certainly are not rare in the country, especially in Kelantan, Terengganu and Kuala Lumpur, with the incidence rate of 85.1, 83.4 and 75.1 per 100,000 of the populations, respectively.

Conventional approach:

Conventional medicine treats food-poisoning with rest and hydration to prevent fluid and electrolyte loss through vomiting and diarrhea.

It prescribes rest, abstaining from consumption of aggravating foods, replacement of lost fluids, and antibiotics (depending on the severity). With this treatment, symptoms are expected to subside within 48 hours.

Chinese traditional approach:

In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is also used. Acupuncture treatments are aimed at draining the dampness and heat from the intestines to remove the pathogen while simultaneously calming the stomach to stop nausea and vomiting. After the acute symptoms subside, treatments are focused on strengthening the digestive system and improving energy levels to bring about a full recovery.

The acupuncture points are illustrated below.

Acupuncture Point Location Purpose
Tianshu – 天枢 (ST25)
Guanyuan – 关元 (CV4)
On the middle of the abdomen, around the umbilicus These points are used for abdominal pain, cramping; heat and dampness are drained from the intestines
Zusanli – 足三里 (ST36) On the shin, below the knee A powerful point used to adjust and balance the activity of the digestive system and relieve stomach pain. It triggers the body to increase the secretion of hydrochloric acid, dissolve food and move it out of the stomach and intestines
Neiguan – 内关 (PC6) Two fingers breadth above the inside of the wrist Alleviates nausea

Source: Acufinder

Ankle Sprain

Ankle SprainAnkle sprains are among the most common injuries around. Ankle sprains occur when the foot twists, rolls, or turns beyond its normal range of motion.

Conventional approach:

The most common form of treatment prescribed for the common ankle sprain, is RICE [Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation]. In the first two days, in the acute phase, this treatment is applied to reduce swelling, decrease pain, decrease blood flow, and decrease inflammation.

Chinese traditional approach:

In traditional Chinese medicine, during the initial stages of an ankle sprain, a topical herb called San Huang San is used to reduce inflammation and break up blood stasis; this is the start of restoring free flow of blood and qi.

Pressure and gentle massage are applied to the points above and below the injury.

This will result in pain, but the principle behind this is that it encourages movement and stimulates circulation.

Bleeding and cupping the injured area with a sterile needle removes stagnant blood and fluids, thus breaking the stagnation of qi and blood. Heat is applied in the later stages, which is used to disperse remaining pockets of congealed blood and further stimulate blood circulation.

The above is a guide only. Care and advice should be sought when performing any form of treatment. Consult your traditional Chinese medicine doctor or acupuncturist for a detailed and tailored treatment and management plan.


Treating Common Ailments – A Chinese and Western Perspective
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