The Various Modalities of Chinese Medicine

By | February 1, 2024

Matthew Fellner, DACM, L.Ac.

February 1, 2024

When most people think of Acupuncture, they tend to fixate exclusively on needles and the imagery that goes along with it.  They may have some idea of what Acupuncture is and what it can accomplish, but often they do not realize that Acupuncture is merely one facet of an entire Medicine that includes multiple modalities and strategies to help achieve ideal health and wellness.  Even people who have had experience with Acupuncture are often not familiar with the benefit of some of those additional modalities that constitute the entirety of Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM).  That may be partly because they have not been educated as to the benefits of these complimentary modalities.  There is even a chance that their acupuncturist may not employ anything other than needles when treating patients, so they may never have been exposed to anything else.  At the ESATM student clinic, there is an emphasis placed on providing patients with a comprehensive overview of the medicine; Partly so that students can practice every aspect of our medicine, but also partly so that patients can be exposed to all the potential healing aspects of the TCM.  New Jersey laws explicitly state that we are well qualified, as licensed acupuncturists, to use a variety of methods to attempt to achieve a therapeutic effect that benefits our patients.  I have broken down most of them here to give a brief overview of what they are and what the benefit may be to the patient.  I have also organized them into 3 categories that I will differentiate as:  Internal, External, & Self-directed.  Internal represents the modalities that are used for health issues that may be considered deeper, more chronic, or ones that require more internal intervention that can only be achieved with the professional guidance of a licensed practitioner.  External represents modalities that are mainly performed on the surface of the body.  They may have an effect that is internal, but can be accomplished without any breaking of the skin, swallowing pills, or changing diet, etc.  Self-directed refers to modalities that may be taught to patients and can be practiced at home.  It is still crucial that the guidance is given by a licensed practitioner, but they are safe enough to do once properly instructed. 


Acupuncture – acupuncture is internal because needles are used to penetrate the skin.  It can treat the widest variety of conditions that include pain, anxiety, inflammation, and any dysfunction of the body, regardless of whether it is acute or chronic. 

Herbs – herbs are given because they are taken internally and processed through the digestive system.  Similar to acupuncture, herbs can be used to treat a wide variety of conditions that may include any dysfunction of the body.  It is much more difficult and nuanced to choose the correct herbal formula because the correct formula must be matched with the patients’ condition and internal constitution.  Taking herbs from an unlicensed practitioner may not only be ineffective, but dangerous.


Moxabustion – also called moxa, this method uses the herb mugwort leaf to stimulate circulation at or near the surface of the body.  It may be applied directly on the skin, placed on a needle, or burned near the surface with a stick that looks like a cigar.  Moxa has been used for thousands of years to improve circulation, reduce excess water(as in edema, swelling, and diarrhea), warm areas of cold, improve gynecological function, and even calm anxiety.

Cupping – Cupping has become more recognizable over the years as many celebrities and athletes have been photographed with the residual cupping marks on their body.  Cupping strongly draws circulation to the surface through a powerful suction that can help loosen tight muscles, facilitate healing from injury, and even help remove toxins and pathogens.

Gua Sha – Gua Sha is a scraping technique that, similar to cupping, powerfully draws circulation to the surface of the body.  It is used for musculoskeletal conditions, and has shown benefit for skin conditions and facial rejuvenation. 

Tui Na – Tui Na is a set of specific bodywork techniques similar to massage that will address muscle, tendon, & ligament conditions.  It can focus on specific muscles or muscle groups, but also fascial connections and individual acupuncture channels as well.  It may be translated to a more simplified version of acupressure which may be taught to patients to practice at home.


Qi Gong – Qi Gong simply translated to “energy” & “work”.  It is a collection of various styles of martial arts movements that are specifically geared towards maximizing circulatory health and meditative well-being.  It is especially powerful because it requires a consistent practice over time by the patient themselves.  When a patient engages in their own self care, the results are sustained for longer, and rooted more effectively in the constitution. 

Breathing/meditation – Breathing & meditation exercises are an integral part of Qi Gong exercise but can be practiced separately.  They are easy to do, safe, and only require a quiet place and a few minutes a day.

Nutrition – Obviously what you eat constitutes a significant part of your health, but TCM has some very specific guidelines that often are a little bit different from what you may have learned.  It may involve being more aware of the temperature of the food you consume, how fast you eat, and choosing foods that are specifically beneficial depending on the season. 

There are so many resources available for practitioners of TCM that go beyond just acupuncture.  It’s worth exploring all of these modalities and asking your practitioner if some may be appropriate for your health journey.

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