A common phrase used in the treatment principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is, “treat the root, to treat the branch”. Essentially what this means is finding the root cause of a disease in order to effectively treat the accompanying symptoms, or “branches”. This method interrupts the “band aid treatment” cycle, where in only the symptoms are addressed while neglecting the underlying cause of symptoms, allowing them to reoccur any time a trigger is present. An example of this is seen in the treatment of eczema with topical cortisone or other creams. Though momentary relief is often achieved, symptoms reoccur when the conditions are right. A common benefit felt after a TCM treatment, is that seemingly unrelated symptoms simultaneously disappear. For instance, a patient with the main complaint of nose bleeds may find that along with a decrease in bleeding episodes, symptoms such as red/bleeding gums, headache, thirst and constipation also diminish. If the root cause is addressed, the symptoms have nothing to cause them, and are no longer susceptible to triggers.
This is one of the main concepts behind TCM diagnosis. The symptoms are the clues to solve the underlying cause, and these clues often reveal themselves as patterns. The pattern is the link between seemingly unrelated symptoms, which evolve from the root. In this way, the symptoms can dictate the root, and the root can predict the symptoms.
Though treating the root is the big picture goal, sometimes it is necessary to first treat a branch symptom. An instant of this is seen in a patient with severe vomiting. The precedence, in this case, would be placed on stopping the vomiting (symptom) first, before preceding with treating the root cause of the vomiting and/ or other ailment. This method is applied when a branch itself is more severe than the root cause, or when the branch must first be addressed before the root can be accessed. Obviously, a patient’s benefit in taking herbal medicines is greatly impeded by vomiting, unless something is added to aid in stopping the vomiting as well, or by stopping the vomiting first. It is important to note, that in these examples, treatment of the root is not ignored, just strategically delayed.
So the next time you are visiting your TCM practitioner, this may shed more light on the reasoning behind some of the more obscure questioning, and help you become more aware of the patterns that may be presenting themselves!
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Shannon Sargent is a registered practitioner of Chinese medicine using her skills in Acupuncture and moxibustion, Chinese herbology, cupping, Tui Na massage and nutrition to offer a holistic approach in this ancient healing tradition. Her method is to meet people where they are at in their healing journey, and to support them in achieving their own optimal health and balance.