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Therapies of Korean Oriental medicine

Materials for preparing a decoctionMaterials for preparing a decoction

Western medicine generally deals with the diseased part of the body; Korean Oriental medicine seeks to find the fundamental cause of the disease to cure it. The basic principle of Korean Oriental medicine is to restore the harmony between yin and yang under natural law. Thus, Korean Oriental medicine not only looks at the symptoms but seeks to eliminate the fundamental cause of disease in accordance with the principle of yin and yang. For example, let’s say you have a high temperature, feel tight in your chest, and have cold hands and feet. In such a case, Korean Oriental medicine deems that a lack of harmony in heat is the essential cause of those symptoms and chooses treatment accordingly.

The therapies of Korean Oriental medicine are extremely varied. They include medicines, acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping, and chuna. All have been tested and their efficacy and safety proven over thousands of years.

Medicines and Prescriptions

In acupuncture therapy, the prescription specifies the acupuncture points that correspond to the patient’s specific ailments or symptoms, or sites to be treated such as legs, fingers, and toes. It is also used in the same manner in moxibustion, exercise therapy, dietary therapy, and other available therapies. The diagnosis determines which medicines are to be administered to the patient and how. It entails preparing a remedy by mixing a number of medicinal substances in precise dosages and administering them to the patient.


A needle can be used as a medical tool to treat diseases in humans and animals. Acupuncture is the treatment of illness or pain by sticking needles into the body. According to various historical accounts, acupuncture originated in the eastern part of China adjacent to the Korean peninsula and spread throughout East Asia.

It is believed that needles were first used for medical purposes in the Stone Age. The oldest acupuncture tool is a stone needle. It was made by grinding stone or jade into an awl or wedge. Such a stone needle was used to stimulate the skin, to cause bloodletting by shallow pricking, or to squeeze pus out. In primitive societies, people may have suffered from more various kinds of aches, pains, and wounds as they lived in hilly or dark and humid areas. This gives us clues as to how a stone needle must have come into use.

There are nine general types of classical acupuncture needles according to size, shape, and use. Needles are typically used to prick the skin or muscle, deeply or shallow. Sometimes a knife-like needle is used to cut the skin and squeeze out blood or pus or to draw stagnant water out from a joint. Of these nine classical needles, filiform needles are used most widely in acupuncture. They are 2-17 centimeters long and relatively thin at 0.2-0.4 millimeters in thickness. Once stuck into the skin, they can be left for a while partially embedded in the skin without causing irritation.

Acupuncture has been used to treat all kinds of diseases including internal, surgical, gynecologic, pediatric, otorhinolaryngologic, and ophthalmologic diseases by controlling the flow of gi. It has also been used for anesthesia, diagnosis, and the treatment of animals. In addition, acupuncture is used to help people quit smoking and even in plastic surgery. Acupuncture provides quick relief and recovery from sprains, indigestion, children’s convulsions, and acute diseases such as tonsillitis, conjunctivitis, and syncope. For chronic diseases such as neuralgia, and dysphasia, satisfactory results require longterm treatment.

Moxibustion treat Moxibustion treat

Moxibustion treats diseases by heat stimulation. A drug material is burned on a certain spot of the skin, or such spot is exposed to the hot smoke from the burning material. The most often used material is dried mugwort. Basically, moxibustion raises the body temperature, so it can be used for all diseases with a “cold nature.” While acupuncture temporarily makes you lose giun (energy), moxibustion raises your giun, making it effective for treatment of enervation due to a lack of jeonggi (vitality) and chronic diseases that consume your energy.

There are two types of moxibustion: direct and indirect. In the direct method, dried mugwort is burned directly on the skin and the spot festers, which in turn improves your constitution and immunity. In the indirect method, the skin does not have direct contact with the burning mugwort, but is only exposed to the heat emitted from it.


Compared with acupuncture, cupping is rather simple. You place a suction cup on a gyeonghyeol (acupuncture point) of the skin with its mouth down and vacuum the cup using heat or a compression pump so that the cup will tightly adhere to the skin.

The spot soon becomes congested with blood. This process can be used to change the blood composition or to remove bad blood from circulation. The process also activates gas exchanges in the body, which in turn facilitates metabolism and stimulates the autonomous nervous system. As a result, digestion, defecation, and sleep are improved.

Cupping is basically either wet or dry. In wet cupping, the suction cup is larger than the blood-extraction area. Caution should be exercised to not extract more than 10 cc of blood per session. Dry cupping does not involve blood-letting, but only applies suction on the skin. This is used for patients who are feeble or when the purpose of treatment can be achieved by only a change in blood composition.

Since it is easier to place a cup over a larger area that contains a gyeonghyeol than to stick a needle into such a point exactly, cupping has long been a common folk therapy. Many families in South Korea practice cupping by themselves even today to treat light pains such as a stiff shoulder.

Chuna Manual Therapy

Chuna is a therapy that prevents and cures disease by tapping or massaging gyeonghyeol and gyeongnak (meridians; pathways of gi) on the surface of the body with the power applied by the fingertips and palms. It helps to strike a balance of gi-hyeol (energy for the organs), facilitate the natural flow of gi through gyeongnak, and improve metabolism and the body’s resistance to germs. Chuna has also in recent years come into wide use to rectify spine and joint problems or to improve blood circulation.

*Article from Korea Magazine (March, 2012)


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