John Aguilar, Jr, MSTCM, LAc, Dipl Ac & CH

Chinese Medical Terminology for the Everyday Person

In General on December 14, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Howdy! I would like to extend an invitation to take part in a small project. I am building a glossary of Chinese medical terminology for my website. I want to share some of the lingo we acupuncturists use to help everyone else understand what we’re talking about when we say your Liver Qi is stagnant. ;)

The invitation is simple: What terms have you heard for which you’d like a more formal definition? Are there any Chinese medical concepts or ideas you’ve heard, for which you’d like some clarification or explanation?

I’ll likely start with ‘qi’ (aka ‘chi’) and move on to the Chinese medical conceptualization of the internal organs, and then perhaps disease processes, like qi stagnation, and Damp-Heat, but let me know if you have any suggestions.

Below is the introduction to the glossary I thought I’d share with you.

As always, your feedback, ideas, and suggestions are greatly appreciated!

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(From the ‘Introduction’)

Probably the greatest single hindrance in the practice of acupuncture and Oriental medicine is the fact that it really is based on a whole different way of seeing and interacting with the human being.

In the West, we take the western medical sciences for granted. We forget that hormones, the nervous system, etc. are theoretical constructs. They are specific ways of ordering and categorizing observations of the human being.

These medical theories are based on ‘deeper’ theories such as biology, chemistry, and physics, for example, and those underlying systems of thought, again, reflect a certain fundamental approach to investigating phenomena and organizing, or ‘making sense’ of, those observations.

Technically speaking, there is no inherent truth to those systems. They are not, strictly speaking, the way the body ‘actually is’. (This understanding is key to science and is why these theories are undergoing constant alteration and revision; they are continuously refined through ongoing investigation, what they say about the body being ‘updated’.)

Chinese medicine is the result of a similar process of making observations of the world, developing theories or ideas to explain what is observed, then testing those ideas and changing them to adapt to what is observed. That much, the two systems of medicine share in common. Their respective conclusions, their individual theories of health, illness, and healing, are quite different.

To the Western ear, the phrase ‘Damp-Heat in the Lower Jiao’ is meaningless, but the term “urinary tract infection” makes perfect sense. This is not because Damp-Heat is ‘made-up’ and UTIs ‘actually’ exist, but, instead, because there are two distinct systems each observing a patient’s condition.

Importantly, Damp-Heat in the Lower Jiao is not the same thing as a UTI; they are not equivalent, interchangeable terms or ideas. This is because contained within them are certain base assumptions about reality, health, and illness. To simply equate the two and say all patients with Damp-Heat have a UTI, is to ignore the difference in basic approaches to medicine, and, since the therapies, the treatments, are based on the same basic approach, mixing and matching diagnostics and therapeutics makes for pretty sloppy clinical medicine.

This is important because Chinese medicine truly is different, and that difference means it can and does fill deficiencies and inadequacies of Western biomedicine. It is because they have such a different view on the human being in health and illness that they complement each other. If we simply treat acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine as if it were nothing more than alternate ways of effecting hormones or neurochemicals, then we lose the distinct advantage of seeing something in a completely different way.

It is for this reason I resist replacing traditional Chinese medical terms with the supposed western medical equivalent, in my private practice. For example, I neither diagnose nor treat ‘arthritis’. It is likely I can offer effective treatment for the symptoms to which that term refers, but the truth is I am seeing, and thus treating, that patient through a different lens, a different worldview.

If Chinese medicine has anything to offer, it is important that it remain Chinese medicine and not compromise its integrity to simply fit in or be easily recognized. It is for this reason I offer this glossary. This medicine does not simply offer a different way of treating whatever illness a patient has been diagnosed; it offers a whole different way of approaching the patient’s suffering. What follows is a glimpse into that complementary world view.

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Visit DenverChineseMedicine.com!
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