Home China Traditional Vs. Modern Medicine: Treating 4 Common Ailments

Traditional Vs. Modern Medicine: Treating 4 Common Ailments

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

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


Headaches 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:

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:

Herbs serve to calm the liver, dispel pathogens, and unblock meridians. The types of herbs used depend on whether a 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. Acupuncture can also be used. The pain is frequently relieved within minutes.

The common cold

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

Conventional approach:

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

As more research is done regarding so-called non-traditional healthcare, doctors and scientists are rediscovering old treatments that are increasingly supplanting today’s standard treatments for a number of conditions. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)
In conventional medicine, rest and fluid intake is prescribed, along with cold remedies, including decongestants and antihistamines. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

TCM 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 vitalize 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 TCM doctor will observe the warm or cold patterns of the cold and prescribe the herbs accordingly. Warm and cold patterns, in the context of TCM, refer to the yin and yang aspects of a disease, and do not necessarily refer to the environment.

Cold conditions are characterized by 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 an 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, increased 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.

One of the common misperceptions of Chinese herbal medicines is that they are chemical agents like other medications or vitamins. (Image: Victoria Reay via flicker / CC BY 2.0 )
In TCM, plant-based medicines are used to induce sweating. (Image: Victoria Reay via flicker / CC BY 2.0 )

Food poisoning

There are 48 million cases of food poisoning in the United States per year.

Conventional approach:

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

TCM approach:

In TCM, 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.

Acupuncture is a treatment modality of ancient Chinese medicine. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)
Acupuncture is a treatment modality of ancient Chinese medicine. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Ankle sprain

About 37,000 ankle sprains happen in the United States per day, according to Orthopedics International. 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.

TCM approach:

In TCM, 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 the 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 TCM doctor or acupuncturist for a detailed and tailored treatment and management plan.

Written by Henry Jom

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