The Chinese Four Pillars of Diagnosis Used in Acupuncture

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chinese-four-pillarsChinese medicine has a different approach to diagnosing patients than you will typically find in a Western medical health care setting. Looking, listening, touching, asking — these important components make up the Chinese four pillars of diagnosis used in acupuncture. The four pillars are also referred to as the four examinations. Each pillar provides information that adds up to a holistic view of the patient and any health issues that can be alleviated through acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine. Read on to learn more about the each pillar.


A lot can be gleaned from a patient during an examination through observation. As part of a diagnosis, the practitioner will likely note the color and luster of the face and skin throughout the body. Different features of the body, including the eyes and ears, also convey information about underlying imbalances. The acupuncturist will also likely examine the tongue, which may indicate the state of a patient’s health by characteristics like its shape, texture and coating or moisture level. Other aspects of a patient that might be observed include their movements and their mannerisms.


The sound of someone’s voice provides a window into their health. Practitioners generally classify the voice into these five types:

  • Shout
  • Laugh
  • Sing
  • Weep
  • Groan

Each type connects to different organs and provides information about which systems of the body may have ailments.


This pillar is commonly called palpation. During this part of the examination, the practitioner feels various pulse points, including along the radial artery, to ascertain the state of the pulse — be it choppy, rapid, strong or possessing any number of other characteristics. These classifications offer deep insight into both the physical and mental state of the patient. The practitioner may also palpate the abdomen or specific acupuncture points to glean additional diagnostic information.

During the touching or palpation portion of the exam, the acupuncturist is looking for areas that are:

  • Tender or painful
  • Hot or cold
  • Swollen
  • Sweaty
  • Discolored


The final pillar involves a process of inquiries starting with the specific or main complaint, if any, and then branching out from there. A traditional Chinese medical diagnosis may involve ten questions, which range in subject from the patient’s sleeping habits to their appetite to the characteristics of the pain they have. Additional related questions may follow these main areas of inquiry.

A practitioner may also include smelling and tasting as part of the diagnostic process by inquiring about any body odors or tastes experienced by the patient. Smelling and tasting are less used by practitioners today than they were in the past.

All of the external symptoms communicate the condition of a patient’s interior organs and systems. The information gathered during an exam using the four pillars of diagnosis allows the practitioner to understand the patient as an individual and come up with a treatment plan that addresses and imbalances they have with their qi — or life force energy.

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Chinese Medicine vs Western Medicine

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chinese-medicine-vs-western-medicineChinese medicine is a system of health care developed thousands of years ago. Western medicine, while quite ubiquitous in the United States, is a much more recent phenomenon. “The development of medicine in Western nations follows the way of hypothetical deduction and the Eastern approach uses the inductive method,” writes Dr. Julia J. Tsuei for the National Center for Biotechnology Information. “The Western approach clearly divides the health from the disease, yet the Eastern approach considers health as a balanced state versus disease as an unbalanced state.” Whether you are looking for alternative or complimentary treatments to those offered by mainstream medical providers or are considering a career in in holistic health, it helps to understand some of the differences in Chinese medicine vs Western medicine. To learn more about some attributes of each system, read on.

Divergent approaches to patient exams

While a doctor of Western medicine might be most interested in vital signs like weight, height, body temperature, blood pressure and so on, as well as signs of disease, the Chinese medicine doctor will examine the whole person. A practitioner might be just as interested in a person’s physical issues as in other aspects of their lives, including their relationships with family, life stresses or spiritual state.

A doctor of Western medicine might treat two patients suffering the same ailment in the same way, while Chinese medicine practitioners would understand that each patient is an individual. “What makes Eastern medicine so different than Western is that instead of prescribing a ‘one size fits all’ for all patients with certain symptoms, Eastern medicine looks at the needs of each individual and unique body and acts accordingly,” according to Gaia. “In essence, it’s a short-term versus long-term action plan.”

Differences in diagnostic practices 

Practitioners of Chinese medicine understand the world and the human body in terms of five essential elements:

  • Wood
  • Fire
  • Earth
  • Metal
  • Water

These substances are aspects of the qi, or chi — or the life force energy — that flows within the body. Each person is made up of a unique balance of these elements, which are each associated with different seasons, colors and organs in the body. When the elements become unbalanced of the flow of qi is impeded, health problems occur. The therapies used by practitioners of Chinese Medicine aim to restore flow and balance. The treatments also aim to help facilitate the body’s own ability to heal itself.

Some of the methods Chinese medicine uses to correct imbalances and create harmony:

  • Diet therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Herbal remedies
  • Chinese exercise
  • Meditation

Western medicine often relies on pharmaceutical therapies to address health issues, while Chinese medicine relies on more natural substances.

Some patients opt for a combination of Chinese and Western medicine, and it’s a good idea to share with your practitioner or provider all the treatments and therapies you use.

Learn more about acupuncture and Chinese medicine by downloading our free guide. You can also make an appointment with the Acupuncture & Massage College’s programs contact admissions.


How Asian Bodywork Is Used to Balance the Energetic System

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asian-bodyworkPractitioners of Asian bodywork therapies aim to treat the human body, mind and spirit as one. Unlike traditional Western medicine, which views the human body as separate from the mind, Asian bodywork takes a holistic approach. Through pressure or manipulation, the techniques used by practitioners of Asian bodywork modalities help balance the body’s energetic system to promote good mental, physical and spiritual health. When imbalances in the energetic system occur, a range of health problems manifest themselves and the body’s natural healing ability is impeded. Practitioners of Asian bodywork use methods to restore the patient to a state of harmonious balance. 

The history of Asian bodywork

Like acupuncture, Asian bodywork is an ancient practice, but has only been an officially recognized practice within traditional Chinese medicine for about 20 years, according to Acupuncture Today. “In 1996, the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) developed the first certification program in Asian bodywork therapy, due in large response to members of the Oriental medicine profession,” the publication states. “The NCCAOM now offers a written comprehensive examination in Asian bodywork therapy, in addition to its existing exams on acupuncture and herbal medicine.”

Types of practices and therapies

Among about a dozen therapies that exist, the American Organization for Bodywork Therapies of Asia recognizes these methods of Asian bodywork, among others: Acupressure, Amma, Chi Nei Tsang, Jin Shin Do Tuina, and several different types of Shiatsu, one of the most popular. Many practitioners incorporate multiple modalities of Shiatsu, for example, during treatment.

According to the AOBTA, practitioners may use the Chinese Four Pillars of examination to determine and execute a course of treatment:

  • Observation
  • Listening
  • Asking
  • Touching

The five essential elements

Everything in the universe, including the human body, is comprised of five essential substances or elements, according to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine. These are:

  • Wood
  • Fire
  • Earth
  • Metal
  • Water

Each element is associated with certain colors, seasons, characteristics, organs and health problems. Each person has a unique blend of the essential substances and the five elements are aspects of qi, or the life force energy, that flows between acupuncture points around the body via meridians, or channels of energy flow.

Balancing the energetic system

Depending on the modality used, Asian bodywork treatments aim to restore the unobstructed flow of qi throughout the body, creating balance. Here are some examples:

Acupressure: Involves applying pressure to acupuncture points around the body to promote the flow of qi and blood, balance energy and relieves tension

Integrative Eclectic Shiatsu: Involves using traditional Chinese medical treatments and manipulation of soft tissues, along with herbal and dietary regimens

Japanese Shiatsu: Involves applying pressure primarily along the body’s meridians, and may also include manipulation of the soft tissues, stretching and exercise

Tuina: Involves applying pressure to acupuncture points, manipulating soft tissues and realigning the spine to treat musculoskeletal and other issues

Learn more by starting your journey toward obtaining a degree in Oriental medicine today. Email our admissions department for information on how to enroll and download our free guide on everything you need to know about pursuing a career in the exciting field of acupuncture.

Acupuncture for Immune System Treatment

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acupuncture-for-immune-systemYour immune system is your body’s security detail — the cells, tissues and organs that comprise it help repel foreign invaders like bacteria, parasites and other microbes that can cause infections. Disorders of the immune system range from everyday annoyances like mild seasonal allergies to serious illnesses like leukemia. Stress, lack of sleep and other common conditions can contribute to a weakened immune system, which can make you vulnerable to infections.

Acupuncture therapy can treat a wide range of health conditions, including immune deficiency, by stimulating and balancing the immune system. Acupuncture can strengthen a weakened immune system by increasing red and white cell counts, T-cell count and enhancing humoral and cellular immunity in patients with immune-related illness.

The causes and effects of a weakened immune system

A compromised or dysfunctional immune system is a major component of most chronic diseases. Poor nutrition, stress and exposure to harmful agents all lead to a declining immune system. Once compromised, a weak immune system results in frequent colds, allergies, and reoccurring infections.

Immunity related disorders include:

  • Common colds
  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Hepatitis
  • AIDS
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Cancer
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Psoriasis
  • Immune deficiency syndrome

Treating symptoms, not causes

Most allopathic health care is directed toward relieving symptoms rather than treating the underlying cause of the disease, which may include toxins, chronic viral infections or a combination of the two. Conventional treatments used in traditional Western medicine for overactive immune system disorders, such as allergies and autoimmune diseases like arthritis, often include treatments aimed at suppressing the immune system through medication. Although that method is useful for limiting symptoms and managing pain, it does not result in a cure. Side effects and other adverse symptoms may develop after long-term use of these suppressive drugs.

Restoring the immune function

So how does someone suffering from an immune disorder find relief? Acupuncture can regulate immune function and treat the underlying cause of the disease by reducing symptoms, speeding up the healing of infection and normalizing the body’s immune response. It works by stimulating specific portions of the autonomic nervous system through selected acupoints, which in turn causes responses in the immune system. Acupuncture can cause a rise in levels of interferon, on of the immune system’s messenger hormones. Regular acupuncture therapy can be effective in treating asthma, allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, colds and infections.

For information about AMC’s Oriental Medicine and Massage Therapy programs you can email our admissions department.

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What is (Qi) Chi Energy?

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(Qi)-Chi-EnergyYou may have heard the words “qi” or chi” with regard to acupuncture and alternative medicine. But do you even know how to pronounce it, let alone understand the concept? If you’ve ever wondered: “What is (qi) chi energy?” then read on. Understanding this important concept will help you better comprehend how Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture work.

The basics

Qi or chi — pronounced “chee” — is the energy flow created along the pathways that connect the acupuncture points on the body. The pathways between the points are called meridians, which also connect to internal organs in the body. Using acupuncture needles, pressure or heat to manipulate a point or two separate points on the body can improve a person’s qi — which is also thought of as one’s life force — and relieve the symptoms of a variety of medical conditions, including chronic pain, digestive issues, respiratory problems and more. This understanding of the human body comes from Traditional Chinese Medicine, which is thousands of years old. It’s a different way of thinking about how the body works than conventional Western medicine.

Diving deeper

Even with a basic definition of the concept, it may still be hard to wrap your head around the idea of chi. Acupuncture Today describes chi as possessing the following characteristics:

  • Vibrations
  • Oscillations of the meridians
  • Carriers of the effect of acupuncture on a pressure point to other parts of the body

Imagine manipulating an acupuncture point, or acupressure point, like strumming a guitar string — plucking one part of it sends vibrations along the length of the string. If plucked with the proper technique, the string will produce a beautiful sound. That’s just one way to visualize how chi flows through the body and effects your health.

Why it works

Acupuncture points are physical places on the body where chi energy can be accessed and manipulated. Acupuncture treatment helps the body’s natural healing process and also serves a preventive function. Energy imbalances or congested energy flow can create or accentuate pain, or impede the body’s natural ability to heal itself. Promoting the unobstructed flow of chi improves health and well-being. Depending on how sensitive a patient is, they may feel the chi as it travels along the meridians during a treatment, others may feel pressure at the acupuncture point and some may feel nothing at all.

Treating different ailments

Qualified acupuncture practitioners know what points to use for treating various medical problems, from pain to anemia to hormonal disorders. Each acupuncture point has certain diseases and conditions associated with it, though sometimes a practitioner will manipulate a combination of points to improve the flow of chi through the pathways and balance a patient’s energy flow. Many people use acupuncture in tandem with other treatments as part of a health regimen that addresses the whole person — mind, body and spirit.

For information about AMC’s Oriental Medicine and Massage Therapy programs you can email our admissions department.