A beginner's guide to TCM: treatments

Discover the basic components of traditional Chinese medicine and their uses

From arthritis to stagnant blood, Traditional Chinese Medicine purports to cure a variety of conditions. Try these techniques to get your qi flowing.



The facts Acupuncture (zhenjiu, 针 灸) is the insertion of thin needles into various pressure points of the body. It is often paired with moxibustion (see right) and has a recorded history stretching back to 100BC.

Used for Acupuncture is said to help with all sorts of aches and pains, from sports injuries to tinnitus. Today, it’s most commonly used to treat back pain or migraines, and in some cases for nausea, particularly following operations. The theory posits that opening up certain points of the body can help the flow of qi (energy) along meridian lines, leading to improved health.

What it’s like We were prepared for a short sharp prick of pain when the needles were inserted into our skin, but not for the sensation of deqi (arrival of qi), which sees whole parts of our body go numb. At least we are lying face down during the process, meaning we don’t see the six inch-long needles going in. They’re left sticking out of our lower back, neck and forehead (aimed at treating back aches and sleep issues) for 20 minutes. The numbness is odd, but we eventually get used to it and though one or two points remain a little sore after the treatment, the pain dissipates by that evening. Where to try it With a professional set-up and a team of reassuring TCM experts, Inner Peace Clinic (399RMB per session) makes the process of having someone stick needles into your body remarkably comfortable. Better yet, the clinic employs acupuncture as part of a holistic approach to treatment, so you can expect a wealth of advice for healthier living once you’re done with the needling.

Inner Peace Clinic Seventh Floor, China Overseas Plaza, 8 Guanghua Dongli, Chaoyang district (6506 1116). Open 9.30am-6.30pm daily (by appointment only). 朝阳区光华东里 8号院中海广场北商业楼7层



The facts Cupping (baguan, 拔罐) is a treatment where glass jars are applied to the skin along the meridians of the body. Practitioners apply the cups using suction, which is generated by creating a vacuum, usually by heat. The suction ruptures capillaries, increasing the blood fl ow to the designated area. Archaeologists have found evidence of cupping being used in China as long ago as 1,000BC, and possibly even earlier in Ancient Egypt.

Used for Cupping is believed to dispel stagnation, improving qi fl ows and realese toxins. In general, it is said to stimulate the ‘flow of energy’ around the body, and the blood rushing to the areas being treated is supposed to promote healing and alleviate all sort of aches and pains. What it’s like Several cups are applied all over our back with a strong suction and left on for around 15 minutes. This part is quite painful, and when we see the marks on our back afterwards we can see why. Our back looks like it got in a fight with an octopus, thanks to large, circuar bruises – which last for around a week. As for improving our energy, sadly the main thing we feel is a slightly tender back for the rest of the week.

Where to try it You can try cupping at most massage and TCM specilalists across the city. We go for foot massage spot Fuqiao Foot Massage in Dongzhimen (98RMB for around 20 minutes).

Fuqiao Foot Massage (富侨足道) Fourth Floor, Yufei Dasha, 42 Dongzhimenwai Dajie, Dongcheng district (8818 0188). Open 24 hours daily. 东城区东直门外大街42号宇飞 大厦4楼


The facts Scraping, or to use it’s slightly more appealing name, guasha (刮痧), involves lightly rubbing a blunt instrument on your body to remove the top layer of skin.

Used for Guasha is meant to be good for treating tense muscles, and again, unblocking the flow of qi; practitioners believe it releases unhealthy elements from injured areas and stimulates blood flow. What it’s like Despite the name, it’s actually not too painful. We start with a nice strict massage, after pointing out areas of focus to our therapist. The most painful areas are those with tension – as with a massage – but considering there is a person pulling off a layer of your skin, we actually feel quite good afterwards. The most shocking part is the state of your body. Our back is lined with deep red marks – apparently the darker the red, the more effective. You’re also advised not to bathe or swim for at least a week afterwards. Not something to try directly before a beach holiday.

Where to try it There are plenty of TCM places around town offering guasha, but given the scrapy nature of the treatment we suggest you choose a credible place. We like the short and sweet 20-minute treatment (80RMB) at massage experts Dragonfly, which is always a haven of tranquility.

Dragonfly Therapeutic Retreat Ground Floor, Grand Summit Plaza (100m north of Lufthansa Centre), 19 Dongfang Dong Lu, Chaoyang district (8532 3122). Open 10am-midnight daily. 朝阳区燕莎桥 东方东路19号外交会所一层(燕莎中 心北100米)



The facts Moxibustion (aijiu, 艾灸) is an ancient form of TCM that involves the burning of a herb called mugwort. It might sound like something out of Harry Potter, but this little herb has mighty pretensions. The mugwort is ground into a substance known as moxa, which is then either applied to the skin directly with a cigar-like stick or burned at the end of acupuncture needles.

Used for Practitioners believe that applying the heat to various meridian lines on your body will help stimulate the flow of both blood and qi, and it can be used to treat everything from digestive conditions to pregnancy difficulties.

What it’s like There are various degrees of moxibustion therapies, and how it feels depends on how extreme you are. If you try the sexy-sounding ‘direct scarring moxibustion’, heat is applied to your skin for just long enough for the skin to blister. But if you don’t fancy having cigars stubbed out on your skin – and nobody in the Time Out team was up for it – you can try ‘indirect moxibustion’, which involves acupuncture needles that are heated by the moxa, sending the heat gently into your skin; it’s not painful and gradually warms the region around the needle. Many clinics now also use a less invasive adaption of the treatment, where special heat is applied on the same basis, but without needles – which many will probably consider much more preferable.

Where to try it TCM specialists Tang Massage offer needle-free moxibustion from 198-398RMB for an hour’s treatment.

Tang Massage 8-2 Jiaodaokou Dong Dajie, near Beixinqiao station, Dongcheng district (8402 4408). Open 10am-2am daily. 东城区交道口 东大街8-2号



The facts One of the best-known TCM treatments, and one you’ve probably tried, tuina (推拿) is the form of Chinese massage which involves pressing on particular energy points in the body.

Used for All manner of aches and pains, especially back and neck issues, or conditions like sciatica. Oh, and – you guessed it – it helps get your qi in motion. What it’s like Our tuina starts with a recognisable neck and back massage before the therapist starts to press particular points and manipulate our body in unusual ways. Certain points are extremely painful, especially the neck massage and a point somewhere below our armpit we didn’t even realise existed. Despite this, the massage is nevertheless relaxing.

Where to try it You can get a tuina massage all over town, ranging from high-end spas to street-corner massage parlours. We like Suhang Blind Massage (80RMB for an hour). It’s nothing fancy, but it’s both effective and very affordable.

Suhang Blind Massage 9 Gongti Dong Lu, Chaoyang district (5607 8788). Open 9am-11.30pm daily. 朝 阳区工体东路9号

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