Chicago Western Suburbs Edition
Bookmark and Share Email this page Email Print this page Print Feed Feed


Fundamentals of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), originating in ancient China, has evolved over thousands of years, and the Western world is gradually realizing the benefits of these holistic modalities. In recent decades, China has welcomed Western integrative and traditional medical practitioners to the country to train and expand their knowledge of TCM healing at their universities and health institutions. Through these unique cross-cultural training programs, Western doctors can return to their home countries versed in authentic Chinese mind and body healing techniques, such as acupuncture and tai chi, as well as lesser-known yet effective fundamental practices including Chinese massage and cupping.

Chinese Massage

In TCM, as in naturopathy, massage is one of the fundamental treatment modalities, along with nutrition, exercise and herbal therapeutics. Acupuncture and moxibustion (a form of heat therapy) are also included in traditional Chinese practice. Massage as a part of Chinese medical treatment has origins dating back over 4,000 years.

Massage treatments first appear in written texts as early as the fourth century Before Common Era (BCE), alongside qigong as a therapeutic exercise and acupuncture, as both utilize the same understanding of the meridians and the flow of qi (pronounced “chee”, meaning universal life-force energy) in the human body. Tui na massage was developed by master teachers of qigong and is considered qi healing, meaning it promotes wellness with external, or surface, qi. In Chinese Mandarin, wai qi liao fa—curing with external qi—the qigong master transfers qi directly to the patient, similarly to the Japanese healing modality reiki.

Tui na is traditionally a vigorous form of deep tissue therapy intended as stimulating, rather that the more relaxing Swedish massage promoted in spa settings. Tui na massage takes its name from two Chinese words that mean lift and press, and it requires the constant, controlled use of very deep, moving pressure. The practitioner pushes hard with the ball of the thumb, then lightly rubs around the area being treated. A tui na therapist might spend as much time on one of a client’s limbs as a Western therapist would to massage the entire body.

Chinese massage may be provided with the client lying on a massage table; reclining on a specialized couch with a mobile footrest for leg and foot massage; or seated on a standard massage chair. The client may remain fully or partially clothed, depending on privacy constraints of the environment.


Cupping therapy is an ancient form of alternative medicine in which a therapist puts special cups made of silicone, earthenware or bamboo on the skin for a few minutes to create suction. Offered within the context of TCM, cupping is used to try to improve a variety of conditions, such as increasing circulation and oxygen perfusion of tissues; inducing relaxation and a sense of well-being; and to decrease inflammation and pain.

Although cupping therapy may have recently reached new popularity, in part from the men’s 2016 U.S. Olympic Swim Team, the treatment is nothing new. Cupping dates back to the ancient Egyptian, Chinese and Middle Eastern cultures and is featured in the Ebers Papyrus, one of the oldest medical texts still extant. The text describes how the ancient Egyptians used cupping at least as long ago as 1550 BCE.

According to ChineseCupping. com, written evidence of the practice in China dates to at least 281 of the Common Era and may have been considered ancient at that time. In massage therapy, cupping is considered among the most effective types of deep-tissue treatment and is a powerful type of acupressure that treats ailments from muscular spasms to cold symptoms.

TCM teaches that cupping opens the meridians of the body, allowing the free flow of life energy throughout the body. In its original form, a flammable substance, such as alcohol or combustible herbs, is traditionally ignited in a small cup. As the flame burns out, a vacuum is created as the air inside and the cooled cup is placed upside down on the patient’s skin, where the vacuum draws the tissue into the cup, reddening the skin as blood vessels dilate. The cup is typically left in place for up to three minutes, and then generally falls off as the tissues return to their previous placement.

The suction against the skin creates a temporary inflammatory response that is thought to attract toxins, forming a raised area resembling a bruise. The technique is considered to promote healing by excreting environmental toxins and metabolic waste through the skin. A more contemporary cupping variation consists of a hand-held manual or electric pump to create the vacuum inside plastic cups, without the use of fire. The practitioner may then glide the cups over the surface of the skin to help relieve tension and congestion.

Cupping therapy is most often used over broad areas of the back and shoulders, neck, stomach, hips and thighs, but it may be performed over any tense or painful area without open wounds, new bruises or recent burns. Different sized cups allow a more concentrated or broader contact with different acupressure points. While there is a slight sensation, the treatment does not hurt.

Cupping can be useful both in detoxification and relaxing hyper-tense tissues. In Chinese massage, it’s an invigorating form of deep tissue work that can be incorporated into other clinical massage techniques.

When it comes to natural health modalities, we have much to learn from our Eastern friends.

Dr. Cory Schultz is a doctor of traditional naturopathy, specializing in weight management, cleansing and detoxification, nutrition and fitness, therapeutic massage and general wellness. He recently traveled to China to study at Guang An Men Hospital in Beijing, Xi’an Jiaotong University Medical School, and Shanghai Shuguang Hospital. Schultz has offices in Chicago and Ottawa, Illinois. For more information, call 312-848- 3987 or visit

Edit ModuleShow Tags

More from Natural Awakenings

Healing Our Kids

An estimated quarter to half of American children have a diagnosed chronic condition such as autism or allergies, but an integrative approach to healing can have profound effects.

Farewell to a Beloved Pet

Innovative options now exist that honor a pet’s remains in an earth-friendly, biodegradable fashion using alkaline water, seeded pods or a manmade ocean reef.

Natural Vitamin E Lowers Heart Risks

Tocotrienols, a natural form of vitamin E found in wheat, barley, corn, rice and palm fruit, has been shown to lower high cholesterol and high blood pressure in seniors.

Music Reduces Need for Post-Surgery Opioids

After surgery, 86 percent of patients engaged in music therapy eschewed opioids and other painkillers, compared to 26 percent in a control group.

Knitting Releases the Blues

Knitting can lower depression, slow the heart rate, reduce the likelihood of dementia and distract from chronic pain, research shows.