A newborn baby with a diseased liver, an elderly diabetic, a sufferer of prostate cancer, a sufferer of uterine cancer - these are just a few of the many patients who say they have benefited from traditional Chinese medicine. Chinese medicine - ranging from herbal medicine and acupuncture to bone-setting and nutrition therapy - is gradually gaining ground in Hong Kong, with university courses and the Government looking to establish a governing body to regulate its practice. The Chinese University has also suggested setting up the world's largest bilingual database of Chinese medicines. But patients also must be convinced about the techniques and practices. Take my own experience with a traditional practitioner - a bone-setter. One evening I slipped in the bath but it was only two months later that I suddenly found myself crippled with pain as I tried to sit down. It was late and the nearest clinic was shut, so I decided to visit my local bone-setter. He told me my tail-bone, or coccyx, was displaced. I said he could do anything to stop the agony. He manipulated my spinal column, and in no time the pain disappeared. An X-ray performed by a Western doctor the next day showed a perfect tail-bone. It was apparent my local bone-setter had fixed the problem. But what might have happened if the man with whom I trusted my spine had made a mistake? My Western doctor, for one, thinks I was foolish to let him manipulate my spinal column to cure back pain. It has been five years since I saw the bone-setter and to this date I still feel lucky. The man saved me a week in hospital but should I damage my tail-bone again, I probably would not turn to him for help. To leave a Chinese clinic feeling satisfied is one thing, to walk out of it feeling lucky is another. Troy Sing, a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine trained in Australia, Hong Kong and China, said that for the public to have confidence in Chinese medicine, there should be a regulatory body. 'Chinese medicine practitioners also need to have an understanding of Western drugs so that the two can complement each other. We are moving towards that direction. There are university courses for Chinese practitioners to get a basic knowledge in Western pharmacology,' he said. He cited a typical case of how Western and Chinese medicine could complement each other: 'I had a patient who was diagnosed as having cancer of the uterus. It was the last stage and her doctor told her chemotherapy would not work for her. 'Basically, she had been told to wait for death when she came to us. We put her on some Chinese herbs, a mushroom versicolor, which has been shown to have anti-tumour responses in mice. In humans, it has been shown to have an effect on certain types of tumour, such as those in the uterus or liver. 'We put her on nine tablets a day. After three months she was feeling much stronger and she went for a check-up. Her Western doctors said she could receive chemotherapy again, while we continued with the mushrooms. Six months later, they said the tumour had gone.' Only time will tell if the woman is completely cured, but there are no doubts that Chinese medicine works in many cases. Mr Sing quoted another patient diagnosed with a five-millimetre ovarian cyst. 'She was concerned because it was quite large and her doctor recommended surgery,' he said. 'We gave her some herbs which she took for two weeks. An ultra-sound scan then showed the cyst had disappeared.' Mr Sing said Chinese herbs had also been effective in treating certain types of gallstones: 'There are gallstones which are produced by an excess of bile salt and another of cholesterol. There are certain herbs that can help to break down cholesterol-type stones.' In Britain, there are also well-documented stories of success. The parents of a two-week-old girl were told without a complex operation to remove her bile duct she would have only months to live. A practitioner of Chinese medicine was consulted, and herbs prescribed. A week later, a biopsy showed her liver had improved naturally. Her Western doctors said there was no need for an operation. Traditional Chinese medicine is primarily based on two books, the Ben Chou Gan Mu and the Yi Zhing Ji Jian, both written more than 2,000 years ago. It treats disorders ranging from diabetes to infertility. While Western medicine tends to concentrate on the specific areas of disease, Chinese herbal medicine emphasises the interaction of body, mind and spirit, and the patient's relationship with the environment. Practitioners of Chinese medicine also emphasise a person's qi, life force or vital energy, which they believe can be enhanced through nutrition and diet. In Western medicine, doctors work to pin down the causal agent such as a virus or bacterium, while Chinese herbalists consider the patient's mental state, his or her environment and lifestyle. Like Western medicine, Chinese practitioners will take readings from patients, but examination involves primarily their pulses, tongue and facial colour. According to Mr Sing, in the left wrist, there are three points which respond to the heart, liver and kidney, and another three to the lung, stomach and spleen, and kidney in the right. Patients' pulses can vary in strength. 'The pulse rate won't change, but the quality of it varies,' he said. 'A person with a blood deficiency will have a weaker pulse in the left wrist.' Chinese medicine believes different areas of the tongue represent different aspects of the body. A dark pink tongue with a yellow coat is a sign of excess heat and patients typically have night sweats and a dry throat. The Encyclopedia of Traditional Chinese Medicine Substances, published by Jiangsu College, lists 5,767 herbs. Mr Sing said to prevent the mix-up of herbs such as the toxic gwai kuo and the non-toxic wai ling sin, Hong Kong could follow the example of Taiwan and Japan. 'In both countries where there is a strong herbal medicine foundation, herbs are prepared in powder form and come in packets,' he said. 'All a patient needs to do is to pour hot water on to it. It is not only user-friendly, but is a form of quality control.' The help that patients can derive from bone-setters and Chinese herbalists is clear, and recovery is seldom as co-incidental as some Western doctors believe. But until a regulatory body is set up, patients should be careful about who they turn to for help. And with something as important as your spine, it is always best to consult a doctor.