What is Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine?

Diagram of the elements of traditional Chinese medicine. A large green circle is labeled "Traditional Chinese Medicine." It has five blue circles inside of it. The five circles are labeled, clockwise from top: Cupping and Guasha, Food Therapy, Tuina, Herbal Therapy, and Acupuncture.

By definition, acupuncture is the insertion of sterile needles into specific points on the body to stimulate a neurological response. This type of biofeedback has been shown to alleviate pain, regulate hormones, and reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety. The effects of acupuncture are compounded so that over time the body is able to “rewire” itself, which allows for long-term relief.

Acupuncture is just one part of a system of medicine known as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).  







Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a system of medicine that focuses on giving the body what it needs to heal itself and to maintain wellness. Every person is unique, which means that their ailments are also unique. A headache is not just a headache in TCM – it is the manifestation of unbalance within a specific body. If you take five people with headaches, from a Chinese Medicine perspective, all five of those people will have different reasons for the headache and each person will have their own unique treatment plan.

TCM is a holistic approach to health. We look at the entire person, from what you eat to how you sleep, along with your underlying body constitution. We approach disease states as a focus on the individual person, not on the disease. The goal of Traditional Chinese Medicine is to give the body what it needs to maintain balance and health.


For thousands of years, humans have used various forms of acupuncture to promote healing. From porcupine quills to stingray tail bones, ancient people studied the impact that stimulation of specific points had on the living body. Today, acupuncture is practiced using stainless-steel needles the size of a single human hair and utilizes a system of over 350 specific body points. When you use these needles to stimulate a specific sequence of points on the body, it creates a biofeedback between the body and the brain that conditions the body to heal itself.

Modern research has shown that acupuncture done by a trained acupuncturist can have a highly positive impact on conditions ranging from muscle strains to menopause, depression and anxiety, painful menstruation and fertility issues, to migraines and addiction.

Acupuncture is a modern mystery for research scientists. Study after study has shown that yes, it does work. However, why it works has been the elusive question. We know it works on a neurological level and we know it can impact hormones, body functions, and the nervous system. However, we don’t know exactly why. Leading researchers have concluded that in order to fully understand the “why” we must first develop technology sensitive enough to measure the biological impact of an acupuncture needle.

Imagine that: a 2,000-year-old medicine is pushing the new frontier for modern medicine!

Additional Resources:

Interested in more information about acupuncture? Check out these great online resources:

2015 BBC Documentary: The Science of Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine

Mayo Clinic and Acupuncture

Cupping & Guasha

Cupping and guasha are two modalities used to promote circulation and healing in specific areas of the body. They do this by creating micro-trauma to the body, which activates the body's own inflammation response system. This response is what promotes healing and circulation.

Cupping is done using either plastic or glass suction cups on broader areas of the body, such as the back, hips, abdomen, and thighs. The cups are adhered to the body using suction. This suction promotes blood circulation and lymphatic drainage, which help to accelerate healing while relieving pain and tension. It is a painless and relaxing procedure.

Guasha involves the use of a ceramic or steel tool and is used mainly on the limbs or smaller areas of the body. The tool is rubbed on the skin and this friction brings blood to the surface while stimulating the lymphatic system. It is a gentle, painless procedure that helps to promote healing.

Neither is painful; however, both may leave slight bruising. Most people find great relief with either modality for muscle pain and stiffness.

Food Therapy

Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine thy food," and in TCM we consider the food we eat as one of the most important aspects of health. You can either eat to promote wellness, or you can eat to promote disease. Food therapy, in its broadest form, focuses on eating whole, seasonal foods. It can be as simple as using fresh ginger to alleviate nausea, or as complicated as making bone broth or congee to help strengthen the body. We take into consideration each individual person’s constitution and health goals when we discuss food therapy options.

Herbal Therapy

Chinese herbal formulas are an alternative to western pharmaceuticals for some conditions. Herbal formulas are also a great companion to acupuncture to help facilitate healing faster. They are potent, high-quality medicinal grade herbs that work similar to western pharmaceuticals; however, because they are digested by the body like food, there is less risk for adverse side effects and harm to your liver or other organs. Chinese herbs do not chemically alter the body like many western drugs; instead, they work with your body to improve your health in a more natural way.


Tuina is a type of Chinese medical massage that incorporates pressure points and deep tissue techniques to alleviate pain and promote circulation. It can be done on any part of the body and is highly effective for treating anything from headaches to sciatica and even arthritis. Tuina is an active form of massage similar to shiatsu.