Traditional vs. Modern Medicine: Treating 4 Common Ailments
Traditional vs. Modern Medicine: Treating 4 Common Ailments
How to treat headaches, the common cold, food poisoning, and ankle sprains

A headache, the common cold, a sprained ankle, and even food poisoning, can be treated by traditional Chinese medicine. 

Anyone can benefit from traditional medicine, and it is best used with an open mind. Here are some examples of the different approaches taken by modern medicine and traditional medicine for common ailments.

1. Headaches/Migraines

Headaches and migraines are the most common neurological conditions in the developed world. More than 45 million U.S. citizens suffer from chronic headaches each year, according to statistics cited by the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine.


Conventional approach:

The most common treatment for headaches in Western medicine is the use of NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs). NSAIDs serve to block pain and inflammation.

Short-term use has shown to provide temporary relief. Long-term use, however, can lead to secondary effects such as nausea, heartburn, liver stress, and “rebound” headaches, according to the Oxford Medical Dictionary, the American Family Physician, and other medical publications. 

Chinese traditional approach:

In traditional Chinese medicine, herbs are used to treat headaches (see which herbs in table below).

These herbs serve to calm the liver, dispel pathogens, and unblock meridians. The types of herbs used depend on whether the headache is caused by external or internal influences.

External influences include environmental factors, such as wind, resulting in pressure to the sinuses and disturbing the flow of blood and qi to the head.
Internal influences are caused by the internal imbalance of liver yin and yang qi.

Chinese traditional medicine also classifies symptoms into hot and cold.

Cold symptoms caused by wind (classified as wind-cold) are characterized by strong chills, wheezing, and the inability to sweat; wind-cold symptoms commonly occur during winter and spring.

Hot symptoms caused by wind (classified as wind-heat) are characterized by congestion, runny nose, swollen glands, fever, and usually occur during summer and autumn.

The types of herbs used, along with the pain types, are listed below.

Acupuncture can also be used. The pain is frequently relieved within minutes. The points used are listed below.

2. The Common Cold

In the course of a year, individuals in the United States suffer 1 billion colds combined. Globally, the number and impact is larger.



Conventional approach:

In conventional medicine, rest and fluid intake is prescribed along with cold remedies, including decongestants, and antihistamines. These remedies do not cure the common cold, but rather alleviate the symptoms.

Chinese traditional approach:

In traditional chinese medicine, plant based medicines are used to induce sweating. It seeks to expel the pathogens through the sweat.

Pungent herbs target the lungs and are used to generate sweat, as well as to direct and vitalise qi and the blood. Pungent herbs are one of the five tastes used to classify chinese herbs. The other tastes are sweet, sour, bitter, and salty

Depending on the patient’s symptoms, the traditional chinese medical doctor will observe the warm or cold patterns of the cold and prescribe the herbs accordingly.

Warm and cold patterns, in the context of Traditional Chinese Medicine, refers to the yin and yang aspects of a disease and does not necessarily refer to the environment .

Cold conditions are characterised with the sensation of coldness, a lowered immune response, lowered/static metabolic activity, a chill, and a reduction in the speed of healing. Hot conditions are associated with excessive metabolic activity, fever, or inflammatory conditions. Cold symptoms improve with warming herbs; hot conditions improve with cooling herbs.

The acute cold is considered a yang condition, which is characterized by increased fever, increase pulse rate, and increased thirst. Conversely, yin conditions are characterized by decreased metabolic activity, little or no fever, and the loss of energy; chronic bronchitis, for example, is a yin condition.

Honeysuckle and Forsythia Powder (銀 翹 散 yin qiao san) can also be used. It is used primarily for wind-heat colds. This formula has been around for hundreds of years and has a proven track record for treating colds and flu. It has also been extensively researched with modern Western methods confirming its effectiveness.


3. Food poisoning

There are 48 million cases of food poisoning in the United States per year.



Conventional approach:

Conventional medicine treats food-poisoning with rest and hydration to prevent fluid and electrolyte loss through vomiting and diarrhea.

It prescribes rest, abstaining from consumption of aggravating foods, replacement of lost fluids, and antibiotics (depending on the severity). With this treatment, symptoms are expected to subside within 48 hours.

Chinese traditional approach:

In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is also used. Acupuncture treatments are aimed at draining the dampness and heat from the intestines to remove the pathogen while simultaneously calming the stomach to stop nausea and vomiting. After the acute symptoms subside, treatments are focused on strengthening the digestive system and improving energy levels to bring about a full recovery.

The acupuncture points are illustrated below.



4. Ankle Sprain

About 37,000 ankle sprains happen in the United States per day, according to Orthopedics International

Ankle sprains occur when the foot twists, rolls, or turns beyond its normal range of motion.


Conventional approach:

The most common form of treatment prescribed for the common ankle sprain, is RICE [Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation]. In the first two days, in the acute phase, this treatment is applied to reduce swelling, decrease pain, decrease blood flow, and decrease inflammation.

Chinese traditional approach:

In traditional Chinese medicine, during the initial stages of an ankle sprain, a topical herb called San Huang San is used to reduce inflammation and break up blood stasis; this is the start of restoring free flow of blood and qi.

Pressure and gentle massage are applied to the points above and below the injury.

This will result in pain, but the principle behind this is that it encourages movement and stimulates circulation.

Bleeding and cupping the injured area with a sterile needle removes stagnant blood and fluids, thus breaking the stagnation of qi and blood. Heat is applied in the later stages, which is used to disperse remaining pockets of congealed blood and further stimulate blood circulation.

The above is a guide only. Care and advice should be sought when performing any form of treatment. Consult your traditional Chinese medicine doctor or acupuncturist for a detailed and tailored treatment and management plan.

*Common cold image via Shutterstock




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