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Chinese traditional medicine

4-minute read

What is Chinese traditional medicine?

Chinese medicine has been developed from knowledge that has built up over thousands of years.

Chinese medicine treatments include acupuncture (if performed with sterile, single use needles), qi gong and tai chi.

Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that Yin-Yang is balanced when you achieve optimal health. Yin-Yang is out of balance when you are sick or ill.

The use of Chinese medicines in Australia has increased in recent times.

Traditional Chinese medicine is based on ancient Chinese practices and includes:

  • acupuncture
  • tai chi and qi gong
  • Chinese herbal medicine
  • dietary therapy
  • Chinese massage


Acupuncture is a form of complementary and alternative medicine. Acupuncture was first introduced to Australia, as part of Chinese medicine, in the 1880s. Acupuncture can be done by Chinese medicine practitioners, as well as other health professionals.

Acupuncture can be used to treat many conditions. It involves inserting fine needles into specific sites on the body. These are called acupuncture points. The needles are used to clear energy blocks and encourage the normal flow of energy through the body.

The needles used in acupuncture are sterile, single use and disposable.

Tai Chi and Qi Gong

Tai chi is a mixture of postures, gentle movements, breathing, meditation and relaxation. Tai chi has been shown to improve balance and prevent falls in older people.

Chinese herbal medicine

Chinese herbal medicine focuses on both the prevention and treatment of illness.

Chinese herbal medicine prescriptions are personalised. So, people with similar health conditions may receive different Chinese herbal medicine prescriptions.

A qualified Chinese herbal medicine practitioner will change the formula as you recover.

More than 450 substances are used in Chinese herbal medicine. Most are of plant origin, although some animal and mineral substances may also be used.

Like all herbal medicines, Chinese medicines can be toxic. They can also interact with other prescription medicines that you may be taking. Always tell your doctor if you are taking Chinese herbal products.

Dietary therapy

Food therapy aims to maintain balanced nutrition through diet.

Medical diet therapy aims to balance Yin and Yang through the combination of nutrition and medicine.

Chinese massage (Tui Na)

Tui Na is a form of therapeutic massage. It is used to treat specific patterns of disharmony.

Tui Na involves strong mechanical stimulation to the muscles and tissues. This activates the nerves, creating physiological and biomechanical changes that allow healing to happen.

Does Chinese medicine work?

For most conditions, there is not enough clinical evidence to know if traditional Chinese medicine methods work. Many studies have been carried out in China, but these often aren’t easily available.

In Australia, Chinese medicines are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). The TGA ensures that the medicines meet quality and safety standards. Some herbs used in Chinese herbal products may be safe, but others might not be.

You should check with your doctor before taking any Chinese medicines.

The future of Chinese medicine in Australia

Further education and research are needed to improve the understanding of Chinese medicine. Research will also improve the quality use of traditional Chinese medicines.

In Australia, Chinese medicine is a nationally registered profession.

Chinese medicine practitioners are regulated in Australia by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). You can check whether your practitioner is registered on the AHPRA website.

Follow the links below to find trusted information about Chinese traditional medicine.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2022

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