A Glossary of Common Traditional Chinese Medicine Terms

A-shi Point.  This is an acupuncture point that is not based on the meridians of the qi but according to the location or site of the symptom. This is also called a “reflexing point” and mostly used for pain syndromes.

Acupoint Injection. Or “water needling”, this is a procedure that involves introduction of a herbal solution directly into an acupuncture point. This is injected with the use of the needle.

Acupoint. Also called pressure or potent points, these are the sites through which the vital energy of organs and meridians normally flow through the body. According to traditional Chinese medicine philosophy there are about 361 important acupoints along the meridians.

Acupressure. The practice of applying finger pressure to specific body acupoints. It is generally believed to provide therapeutic benefits and used for relaxation and wellness.

Acupuncture. The practice of inserting extremely thin needles into strategic locations in the body to balance of flow of qi or life force. Acupuncture is believed to stimulate nerves, muscles and connective tissues hence boosting the body’s immune system.

Assistant Herbs. In Chinese herbology, assistant herbs are used in herbal combinations to help the monarch and minister herbs to perform their pharmacological functions and to relieve the symptoms of the condition. Assistant herbs can also regulate any toxicity present in the monarch and minister herbs.

Bi Syndrome. A term used in acupuncture which refers to a blockage or obstruction in the meridians, organs or extremities. This is characterized by pain, swelling of the tendons and joints, numbness and heaviness of muscles or limitation of movements of the joints.

Bladder. An important meridian responsible for storing and excreting urine. It is said that an imbalance in the bladder can lead to urinary problems.

Blood. In TCM, blood is viewed as the fluid inside the blood vessels that provide nutrition for the cells and organs and keeping the body moist.

Chinese Medicinal Diet. In TCM, this refers to a specially prepared meal plan made from Chinese herbs, food and condiments for the symptoms of the disease that was diagnosed. A Chinese medicinal diet is a functional diet that is used to prevent and treat diseases, improve fitness, and can also slow down the aging process.

Cupping. This is a practice of applying a series of bell or cup-shaped vessels upside down over strategic points on the skin to create a vacuum and create a stimulating effect.

Dampness Evil. This is said to be caused by a pathogen affecting the yin. Symptoms of having the dampness evil in the body include sluggishness, tiredness, heavy limbs, sticky and turbid bodily discharges and a sticky coat on the tongue.

Decoction. This is the process of combining and cooking medicinal herbs to create a brew or a soup for a specific illness or condition.

Eight Therapies. These are the common therapeutic methods performed by trained TCM practitioners. The methods are: diaphoretic (dispersion of pathogens from the body’s surface); Emetic (expelling toxic substances via the mouth); Purgative (relieving the bowels); Regulating (building the body’s resistance to pathogens by controlling body functions); Warming (eliminating cold and boosting yang); Heat-Removing (diminishing fever and quenching bodily thirst); Tonifying (nourishing and boosting qi or life energy); and Resolving (elimination of accumulated and stagnated qi, blood, phlegm, retained food and fluids that have hardened into lumps).

Energy Tonic. Or known as “qi tonic,” they influence the spleen functions and help the body increase its vitality for the body to function optimally. Not to be confused with stimulants, the energy tonic is believed to enhance the absorption of nutrients in the gastrointestinal system so that energy and blood circulates freely within the body.

Enuresis. Commonly referred to as “bed wetting,” in Chinese medicine, this is attributed to kidney-qi failure, or a primordial energy deficiency.

Epimedium.  Scientific name: Epimedium brevicornum Maxim; This is a common herb used in Chinese medicine to relieve stress and fatigue. It has been used by Chinese folk healers to strengthen the yang element in the body and boost qi. The leaves are believed to be potent aphrodisiac and are also used for the alcoholic beverage “Spring Wine.”

Exogenous Evils. Called “Lao Shang” in Chinese, this refers to the six natural weather factors that are not harmful under normal conditions but become toxic to the human body when in excess or there is an imbalance in the yin and yang elements inside the body. The six climates involved are: wind, cold, summer-heat, dampness, dryness and fire.

Fire and Heat Evils. This refers to the pathogenic effect to the yang element in the body, producing heat-related symptoms such as fevers, inflammation, skin eruptions, dry skin, brittle hair and constipation.

Five Elements Theory. A fundamental principle used by Chinese medicine practitioners to explain the relationship between the natural world and the body. The basis of Traditional Chinese medicine as known in the modern world, this theory asserts that all substance and matter in the universe are correlated and interact naturally to one another. The five essential elements of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water have corresponding effects on climatic seasons of Spring, Summer, Late Summer, Autumn and Winter, as well as body parts and organs such as the Liver, Heart, Lungs, Kidney, Stomach, Intestines, Bladder and so on. There is an organized relationship in all the elements in nature and the body, and the practice of TCM is to restore and maintain the harmony among all the five elements.

Five Zang Organs. Also referred to as the “yin” organs, these are the liver, heart, spleen, lung and kidneys. Their primary roles are to produce, regulate and store essential qi, blood and other bodily fluids.
Flush Channel. Or the “thoroughfare vessel,” this is an acupuncture point that is where the 12 normal meridians in the body converge.

Gall Bladder Meridian. The Leg Shao Yang Gall Bladder Meridian starts out from the outer corner of the eye. Afterwards it splits into two paths – one runs at the exterior, weaving back and forth at the back of the head and then curves by the ear to trail down the top of the shoulder, the lateral side of the rib cage and abdomen and ends at the side of the hip. Another path goes into the cheek and trails down internally – down to the neck, chest, gall bladder – and then comes out to the lower abdomen to connect with the other trail at the hip before it snakes down to the lateral side of the thigh, the lower leg, crossing over the ankle and lands on the tip of the fourth toe. This meridian is used in acupuncture for conditions of the eyes, ear, throat, as well as mental illnesses.

Gecko. Used in Chinese herbology, the Gecko lizard is widely found in southern China. It is believed that the tail and the backbone of the Gecko are good ingredients for a warming Yang tonic. It is also said to boost the strength and endurance among athletes and is said to provide sexual energy.

Ginseng. Also known as the “king of herbs” it is one of the most valued and most commonly used Chinese herbs. It is believed to help strengthen the immune system, regulate metabolism and help combat stress and fatigue.
Glossy Pivet Fruit. Scientific Name: Fructus Ligustri Lucidi. A sweet and bitter fruit found in several provinces in China that is believed to have therapeutic actions on the liver and kidney meridians.

Governor Vessel Meridian. Running along the end of the spinal column up until the head, this is referred to as the “Sea of the Yang Meridians” because this is where all the Yang meridians meet and it controls the qi flow in all the Yang meridian points in the body.

Guide Herbs. In an herbal combination, the guide herbs act to direct the herb’s active ingredient to reach the target meridian. It also provides a buffer effect on the other herbs in the mixture.

Healthy Energy. Also referred to as “genuine qi”, “vital energy,” “vital essence” or “vitality qi”. This refers to the proper and natural functioning of all the elements of the body according to the climate and seasons.

Heart Energy. In TCM, the heart organ is not only related to cardiovascular functions but also to mental and “spirit” activities. Deficiency in heart energy leads to palpitations, shortness of breath, pale face, fatigue and general weakness.

Heart Meridian. Also known as the Arm Shao Yin Heart Meridian and is one of the twelve major meridians of the body. The Heart Meridian actually starts from the heart and then splits of into three branches. The first goes down to the small intestine. The second one travels up along the throat to the eyes. And the third goes under the arm and runs along the inner side of the forearm, elbow and upper arm, crossing to the inner side of the wrist and palm. It ends at the inside tip of the little finger where it connects with the Small Intestine Meridian. The acupoints in this meridian are used for heart, chest and nervous system disorders.

Inspection. Part of the diagnosis process in TCM, inspection entails the practitioner or physician to make use of his visual senses to ascertain the condition of the patient. By observing the changes in the patient’s appearance, secretions, excretions and vitality, he or she can determine which body part is affected. Generally the following parts are inspected: Tongue, Movement and Posture, Body Shape, Skin Colour and Spirit (or outward manifestation of vital qi).

Jing. In TCM, Jing is considered an essential fluid-like substance for life. It is needed for reproduction, growth, development and maturation. As one grows older, Jing normally decreases. The Jing can be found in the kidneys.

Kidney Meridian. Leg Shao Yin Kidney Meridian. The line starts from the bottom of the small toe then crosses the middle part of the sole and the arch of the foot, goes behind the inner ankle upwards along the inner lower leg and thigh and enters the body to connect with the kidney. The path continues over the abdomen running externally until the upper chest. Another branch begins from the kidney and moves internally upward through the liver, diaphragm, lungs, throat to land at the root of the tongue. Still yet another branch connects with the heart and the pericardium. This meridian is used from gynecological, genital, kidney, lung and throat conditions.

Kidney Qi. An important body organ, the kidneys regulate the urinary and excretory system and also has influence over the reproductive, endocrine and nervous systems. If there is imbalance in the kidney qi, it manifests itself as spiritual fatigue, frequent urination, soreness and weakness in the lower back and knees, menstrual problems for women, prostate disorders in men and sexual dysfunction in both genders.

Large Intestine Meridian. It is also known as the Arm Yang Ming Large Intestine Meridian. This starts from the tip of the index finger then runs between the thumb and the index finger. It travels along the back of the forearm and the front side of the upper arm until the highest point at the shoulder. From this tip it branches off into two paths: an internal one travels to the lungs, diaphragm and large intestine, the other trails externally upwards to the neck, cheek, entering through the gums and lower teeth then curves around the upper lip and to the opposite side of the nose. Imbalance in the Large Intestine Meridian can cause diarrhea, constipation dysentery or oral problems such as toothache.

Liver Meridian. Also called the Leg Jue Yin Liver Meridian, it starts from the top of the big toe and across the top of the foot then crosses around to the inner ankle to trail upward along the inner side of the lower leg and thigh. The path then goes around the external genitalia to the lower abdomen, up to the lower chest, the liver, the gall bladder then further upwards to the throat, eyes and then emerges from the top of the head. Imbalance in the Liver Meridian presents itself as pain in the groin area, incontinence, hernia, difficulty in urinating and chest fullness.

Listening and Smelling. Another step in TCM diagnosis where the practitioner or the physician uses his auditory and olfactory senses to determine changes in the patient’s condition. The patient’s speech, breathing and coughing is analyzed in terms of sound and form. As well, excretions and secretions are smelled for abnormal odours.

Lung Meridian. The Arm Tai Yin Lung Meridian. It begins in the middle area of the body and runs down to the large intestine. Then it passes through the diaphragm to connect with the lungs. As with the other meridians, it branches out: one travels from the armpit and runs down the upper arms to the elbow crease. It then continues until the tip of the thumb, passing along the major artery of the wrist. The other branch appears from the back of the wrist and ends at the inner tip of the index finger connecting with the Large Intestine Meridian. This meridian is used for conditions of the throat, chest and lungs.

Lung Qi. The lungs connect with the throat and nose and they regulate respiration as well as water flow in the body. An imbalance in the lung energy results to feeble cough, asthma, shortness of breath fatigue and lusterless complexion.

Meridian. The Chinese term for meridian is “Jing Luo.” “Jing” refers to the vertical channels, while “Luo” refers to the networks that branch off from the vertical channels. Meridians are the major pathways through which the qi flows. In TCM, there are 12 identified major meridians that correspond to the yin and yang organs and the pericardium. These are also interrelated and which are used for treating ailments and correcting imbalances in the qi.

Minister Herbs. In an herbal combination, the minister herbs support the monarch herb in performing its major action on the body. It also helps treat the accompanying symptoms of the ailment.

Monarch Herbs. Also known as the principal herb in a combination, it performs the primary and leading effect in the herbal combination. A potent herbal combination is said to contain one to two monarch herbs.

Moxibustion. A method of TCM therapy whereby a burning moxa wool (made of mugwort leaves), or moxa wool occasionally mixed with herbs, is applied on a patient’s acupoints to facilitate healing. The heat from the moxa wool is said to penetrate deep into the affected location without damaging the skin. This technique is used to warm the meridians, boost the flow of qi and blood and eliminate the pathogens from the body.

Nutrient Essence. In diet or food therapy, the nutrient essence is acquired from the food and is considered a necessity for the body to maintain its health and optimum performance. Nutrient essence, when absorbed by the body can be converted into Jing, which is stored in the kidneys.

Organs. In TCM there are five major organs that cover a wide range of systems and functions in the body: the heart, the liver, the spleen, the lung and the kidney. Each of these organs possesses their own qi or energy and an imbalance leads to chronic ailments.

Orifices.  These are the openings of the five major organs on the body’s surface: the eyes for the liver; the tongue for the heart; the spleen opens into the mouth; the nose to the lungs; and the kidneys open into the ears. It is said that when an orifice is closed, there is blockage, or worse, unconsciousness.

Otopuncture Therapy.  This is a form of acupuncture whereby certain acupoints on the patient’s ears are stimulated. There are two forms of otopuncture therapy: the use of needles and padding with herbal seeds.

Overstrain. In TCM, overstrain refers to the endogenous causes that result to chronic conditions. These causes include stress, toil, improper diet or emotional troubles. Overstrain is believed to damage the spleen and kidney energies such that the patient can suffer from restlessness, palpitations and vexing heat.

Palpation. A diagnostic method in TCM where the physician takes the patient’s pulse and feels the skin, hands, feet, chest, abdomen and other areas of the body for abnormalities and changes. In TCM, pulse-taking is an important method to determine the location and the nature of the patient’s condition.

Pericardium. In TCM, the pericardium is viewed as an attachment to the heart – it is actually the membrane that surrounds the heart. When exogenous pathogens invade the heart, the pericardium is the first to be attacked.

Pericardium Meridian. The Arm Jue Yin Pericardium Meridian. It starts from the chest from the pericardium and runs down along the diaphragm to connect with the Triple Burner Meridian. It has two branches: one from the chest travels to the armpit and along the middle part of the upper arm, down between the lung and heart channels to the elbow crease. It continues down the forearm and enters the palm where it ends at the tip of the middle finger. A second branch emerges from the palm and connects with the Triple Burner Meridian at the end of the ring finger. Imbalance in the Pericardium Meridian presents itself as symptoms of heart pain, palpitations, chest discomfort and “shen” disorders such as manias.

Pestilential Evil. Droughts, floods, extreme heat, pollution and unsanitary environmental conditions are examples of pestilential evil. This pathogenic factor affects not only one, but a significant number of people with epidemics and highly contagious diseases.

Phlegm. A good indicator of a pathogenic substance or a disorder in the body. Phlegm can either be external and visible, or internal and invisible.

Qi. Commonly translated as “energy flow”, or the “breath of life”, qi is an essential and fundamental concept in TCM that pertains to the vital energy that flows throughout and around the body. It is believed to be found in all living things and is formed from the harmonious interaction of yin and yang energies. Qi flows through the body’s meridians and the practice of TCM is hinged on regulating and maintaining the proper flow of Qi throughout the body.

Qi-Gong. A system of physical and mental training exercises for physical, emotional and spiritual health. There are four types of training in Qi-Gong: dynamic, static, meditative and training activities requiring external aids. Also considered as part of TCM, the practice of Qi-Gong is meant to control the flow of qi.

Questioning. This is the first method in TCM diagnosis where the practitioner asks detailed questions about the patient’s immediate complaint, symptoms, medical history and background and more.

Reverse Flow of Qi. This usually refers to an adverse or negative state of qi in the body, resulting to dysfunctions in certain internal organs. Signs of a reverse flow of qi present itself in shortness of breath, vomiting or hiccups.

Scraping Therapy. Believed to be a variation of acupressure or TCM massage, it is a therapeutic method practiced by old Chinese healers whereby rim tools that have been lubricated with oil or warm water is scraped down the patient’s shoulder, back or neck. This is believed to promote blood and qi circulation in the body, activate meridians and regulate functions of the organs. It has been used for treatment or relief of motion sickness, stomach distention and flu.

Seven Emotions. These refer to the human emotional responses to environmental conditions and changes. They are believed to be potential causes of illnesses. The Seven emotions are: sadness, fright, fear, grief, anger, extreme joy, and restlessness or pensiveness.

Shen. This represents the spiritual abilities of a person such as his passion and enthusiasm for life, to think and form ideas and speak coherently and to live a happy life.

Shanghan. The term used to connote severe diseases caused by exogenous cold evils. Manifestations of shanghan vary from chills, aching of muscles and bones, belching, and may present itself with or without fever.

Small Intestine Meridian. Arm Tai Yang Small Intestine Meridian. This major meridian connects with the Bladder Meridian through a short branch in the cheek that travels upward to the inner corner of the eye. It connects to the small intestine along a branch that moves internally through the heart and stomach. Imbalances in the Small Intestine Meridian are said to result to stiff neck, sore throat, hearing problems, and pain along the shoulder, upper arm, elbow and forearm.

Spleen Meridian. This starts from the big toe, running along the inside of the foot and crosses to the inner ankle. It then travels upward along the inner lower leg and thigh, entering into the abdominal cavity to connect with the spleen and upwards to the Heart Meridian. Disharmony in the Spleen Meridian can cause loose bowel movement, flatulence, indigestion or gastric pains.

Stagnation of Qi. In contrast to reverse flow of qi, this condition depicts the impairment of the normal flow of qi in the body. Stagnant qi in the meridians may result in pain and aches in the body.

Stomach Meridian. Leg Yang Ming Stomach Meridian. This channel begins from the end of the Large Intestine Meridian (side of the nose), and travels along the inner corner of the eye then emerging from the lower part of the eye. It then travels downwards entering the upper gum, lips and lower jaw. When it reaches the corner of the forehead through the front of the ear, it splits into an internal and external branch. The Stomach Meridian connects with the Spleen Meridian at the end of the bid toe. This meridian is used for several gastro enteric diseases as well as toothaches and mental illnesses.

Syndrome Differentiation. This is the stage where the specific disease or disharmony in the meridians is recognized, arrived at after the four steps of diagnosis and examination. In this process, the physician determines the stage at which the disease has developed, the specific location and the degree of resistance between the body’s immune system and the attacking pathogens.

Taijiquan. Also known as Tai Chi Chuan, it is considered a dynamic form of Qigong. It is a system of routines with therapeutic benefits as well as recognized as a martial art. The objective of Taijiquan is to promote a balance between the yin and yang energies in the body and the smooth flow of qi along the meridians.
TCM. The acronym for Traditional Chinese Medicine, an alternative medical system and practice originating from ancient China.

Tonification. A process of therapeutic treatment whereby the nourishment and replenishment of the qi and the blood when they are deficient in the body,  as well as the balance of yin and yang is restored. There are different methods of tonifying: through diet; tonifying by herbs; by acupuncture and moxibustion; or by massage.

Triple Burner Meridian. Arm Shao Yang Triple Burner Meridian. In TCM, the Triple Burner is an essential element in digestion and consists of three parts: the Upper Burner (Mouth to Stomach); the Middle Burner (Stomach to Large Intestine) and the Lower Burner (Small Intestine to Rectum). The Triple Burner Meridian connects with the Gall Bladder Meridian through an external branch that runs up the side of the neck, the ear and ends at the outer end of the eyebrow. An internal branch connects with the Triple Burner sections. This meridian is used for ailments involving the ears, eyes, chest and throat.

Tui Na. Also known as Naprapathy, it is a form of Traditional Chinese massage that focuses on meridians and acupoints to bring balance to the body’s energies.

Wei Qi. This is the TCM equivalent of the body’s immune system as known in mainstream medicine.

Weifen (or Wei) Syndrome. If a patient is diagnosed with the Wei Syndrome, there is weakness and eventual wasting of the muscles particularly in the lower extremities of the body.

Wind Evil. An influential pathogen that causes cold ailments such as chills, vertigo, spasms or twitches.

Yang Deficiency. Inadequate yang energy in the body manifests itself in general swelling, pale complexion, lethargy, lower back pain, a deep and slow pulse and bland taste in the mouth. This denotes that the body cannot sustain functions of warmth and motivation.

Yin Deficiency. Lack of yin energy in the body results to symptoms of night sweats, fever, dizziness, insomnia, blurry vision, dry mouth, scanty and yellow urine and afternoon fevers. This denotes that there is excess heat in the body.

Yin-Yang. In Chinese philosophy, Yin and Yang are mutually interdependent properties or elements that represent the duality of everything. The two polar factors constantly interact in either a complementary or opposing way, and the result of their interaction produces Qi. In TCM, Yin stands for coolness and bodily fluid that moisten and nourish the organs and tissues, while Yang represents heat and the body’s ability to generate and maintain warmth and circulation in the body.

Zang Fu. In TCM, it denotes the functions of the major organs of the body and their interaction to each other. There are twelve zang fu organs: the yin organs of the heart, liver, spleen, lung, kidney, pericardium; and the yang organs of small intestine, large intestine, gall bladder, urinary bladder, stomach and the triple burner.