The Western doctor observes the facts before him and uses current physiological theories to explain the cause and effect of disease patterns. Chinese medicine is based on a much wider world view, which has its roots in philosophy and nature. The Taoist concept of health is to attain a harmony between the opposing forces of the natural world, Yin and Yang.
Day gives way to night, night to day; a time of light and activity (Yang) is followed by darkness and rest (Yin). Flowers open and close, the moon waxes and wanes, the tides come in and go out; we wake and sleep, breathe in, breathe out. Yin/Yang is a constant, continual flow through which everything is expressed on the one hand and recharged on the other. They are an inseparable couple. Their proper relationship is health; a disturbance in this relationship is disease. (Acupuncture, p. 57)
Acupuncture is far more than a technique of inserting tiny threadlike needles along meridian lines of the body. It is part of a complex medical system that depends on diagnostic methods which take into consideration the person as a whole and not just as an isolated set of symptoms. The ideas of Yin and Yang mentioned above are applied to every system in the body such as the circulatory, digestive and endocrine systems. The confusing part is that the Chinese medical text has its own language which translates these systems into such English words as heart, stomach and kidney. Chinese medicine further identifies several properties of disease as being extensions of nature found in the human body such as heat, fire and wind. The simplistic translation is misleading because the true explanation behind the terms fire and wind is very complicated and intricately woven throughout the web of knowledge that makes up Chinese medicine. The term ulcer, for instance, no longer has just one meaning. In Chinese medicine an ulcer can be caused by several different disease patterns and then the treatment can be applied based on which one the patient represents.
The tools with which to treat diseases multiply exponentially when you have multiple causes for each diagnosis as you do in Chinese medicine. Acupuncturists, who have learned this extensive language of theories, have another set of medical principles to apply to disease patterns. This is responsible for how acupuncture can often be effective when western medicine has run out of treatment options. In Chinese medicine, the patient’s symptoms are treated as a unique disease pattern and the treatment options are tailored to meet the individual’s health concern. The communication breakdown between the two medicines is primarily responsible for the misunderstanding about Chinese medicine is and how it works. Current research is seeking to find the meaning behind the foreign language of Chinese medicine and to prove its efficacy.