Chinese medicine can be difficult to decipher sometimes; the language and methods it uses only makes sense within the system itself and without any background knowledge it can be confusing and annoyingly esoteric. Imagine hearing these words from your Chinese medicine practitioner “Your kidneys are deficient” or “Your liver qi is stagnated” or “you are suffering from blood stasis and dampness in the lower jiao”. Huh? Should you run to the hospital for an MRI? Do I need dialysis? What is going on? Once a patient misheard me when I said “Qi stagnation” and thought they were suffering from “cheese stagnation”. Uh oh that sounds serious, no more havarti!
Unlike a conventional medicine diagnosis, Chinese medicine describes patterns that are a collection of symptoms, making connections with everything that is happening with our bodies, from bowel movements and neck pain to skin issues and urination. In addition to reviewing your full health history and asking some questions that may not seem to be related to your primary concern for seeking treatment, Chinese medicine practitioners feel the radial pulse at your wrist and observe the coating, size and colour of your tongue (who else but an acupuncturist will say “thank you” after you stick your tongue out at them). The details found in the tongue and pulse help the practitioner to arrive at a diagnosis.
For example, let’s take a look at a pattern that is seen frequently in clinic – ‘Liver Qi Stagnation’ (that’s Qi, not cheese). In Chinese medicine, the liver has many responsibilities; it is in charge of the smooth flow of qi through our bodies and for soothing our emotions. In fact, emotional disharmony is a major cause of Qi stagnation and can regularly manifest with physical and emotional symptoms, including distention, sighing, movable masses in the abdomen, tight/wiry radial pulse, impatience, mood swings, unexplained anger or emotional responses. We may also see related digestive issues such as constipation and/or diarrhea, abdominal pain and discomfort, stomachaches or poor appetite.
For the Chinese medicine practitioner, it is these collection of symptoms that lead us to a diagnosis and help us to narrow down the pattern differentiation. When we see a collection of symptoms they will provide us with clues that tell us how the body is out of balance. Through these clues, we make a diagnosis and develop a treatment plan that enables us to correctly choose acupuncture points and techniques to help the body regain balance.