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Other Chinese medicine modalities: Cupping, Gua Sha, Moxibustion, and Electroacupuncture

Updated: May 4, 2023

If you want to jump ahead: Cupping Gua sha Moxibustion Electroacupuncture

As acupuncturists, we learn the location and function of over 300 acupuncture points on the acupuncture meridians in school. After graduation, I studied the location of motor points, which are areas of tissue in the muscle belly where the nerve innervates the muscle. These points can be needled to treat orthopedic conditions where the muscle has become inhibited. In addition to motor points, I have studied trigger points, which are knots in a specific muscle that cause pain when applying pressure. A trigger point can cause pain, prevent muscle lengthening, weaken the muscle, and refer pain to other body areas. Acupuncture needles help release this area of tension by stimulating a muscle twitch response. This will allow the muscle to reset to its normal length leading to pain reduction and better range of motion. In a later blog post, I will go into more depth about using these points to treat pain conditions.


Cupping, gua sha, moxibustion, & electroacupuncture

I want to focus this blog post on other tools we learned about in school that don't involve acupuncture needles. Cupping, gua sha, moxibustion, or electroacupuncture can be incorporated into your acupuncture session before or after the needling if I believe it will benefit your condition. Other alternative medicine practitioners may utilize some of these modalities, and I'm not here to argue about their historical beginnings. Instead, I want to educate everyone about the powers of these modalities. In my opinion, the more people who use them, the better.



cupping gua sha moxibustion electroacupuncture
Photo: @rcgmultimediaservices

Cupping

Cupping gained popularity in the US among athletes after Michael Phelps was seen with cupping marks on his back while swimming in the Olympics. However, this ancient healing modality has been around for thousands of years, and its true origin remains uncertain. Cupping therapy involves creating suction on the skin using a glass, ceramic, or plastic cup. Negative pressure is made in the cup either by applying a flame to the cup to remove oxygen before placing it on the skin or by attaching a suction device to a plastic cup after it is placed on the skin. The cups come in all different sizes and can be used all over the body, including the face.


Types

  • Dry: This cupping involves placing a cup on areas of the body where there is tension and leaving them on without movement.

  • Wet: This cupping involves piercing the skin, and blood will flow into the cup after the cup is placed on the skin. This helps to release stagnant blood in an area of pain.

  • Moving: This cupping involves putting oil down first and then moving the cups along an area of the body where there is tension.

  • Dynamic: This cupping involves placing the cups in specific muscles and having the patient move to increase the muscle's range of motion and neuromuscular re-education.


What can it be used for?

  • Scar treatment

  • Common cold

  • Musculoskeletal pain

  • Migraines

  • Muscle tension

  • Cosmetic purposes

Benefits

  • Promotes blood flow to an area of tension which will help reduce pain

  • Improves lymphatic circulation to reduce swelling and removes toxins

  • Releases scar tissue and fascial adhesions that can cause pain and restricted range of motion

  • Increases mobility and range of motion

  • Helps maintain a healthy immune system



cupping gua sha moxibustion electroacupuncture
Photo: @rcgmultimediaservices

Gua sha

Gua Sha involves using a smooth-edged tool (like a small spoon or a jade tool) to scrape areas of your body which raises tiny red spots on your body known as petechiae. Their presence signals that there is bleeding underneath the skin. This stimulation of new blood helps encourage the healthy circulation of energy (qi) and blood and promotes the healing of injured tissues.


Types

  • Graston Technique: This is an instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM) technique that other manual therapists may utilize to help the practitioner identify areas of restriction and attempt to break up scar tissue. The tools are made of stainless steel and have rounded edges. The technique can be gentler than gua sha because specific receptors in the fascia respond to a softer approach.

  • Facial Gua Sha: This gua sha is trending in the beauty world. It's great because it can be done at home with a purchased jade tool or roller. It's more gentle than body gua sha and does not cause red petechiae on the skin. It helps to move lymphatic fluids and breaks down muscle tension leading to increased blood flow and reduced puffiness in the face. It's used to prevent premature aging in the beauty world, but I also use this type of gua sha for jaw tension, Bell's palsy, and headaches.

What can it be used for?

  • Scar treatment

  • Common cold

  • Musculoskeletal pain

  • Migraines

  • Muscle tension

  • Cosmetic purposes

Benefits

  • Promotes blood flow to an area of tension which will help reduce pain

  • Improves lymphatic circulation to reduce swelling and removes toxins

  • Releases scar tissue and fascial adhesions that can cause pain and restricted range of motion

  • Helps maintain a healthy immune system



cupping gua sha, moxibustion, electroacupuncture
Photo: @rcgmultimediaservices

Moxibustion

Moxibustion is the process of applying heat to an acupuncture point. In Chinese medicine, the herb, Mugwort (or Ai Ye), can be applied directly or indirectly to the skin. Cold is one of the pathogens that can cause disease in Chinese medicine. It can be contracted externally through a virus, bacteria, or working/living in a cold environment. The cold can penetrate the skin, causing chills, muscle aches, and pain. Cold can also develop internally due to disharmony in yang (warming) energy.


Types

  • Direct: this moxibustion technique applies the herb directly onto the patient. Some burn cream is put down on the patient, then the moxa is placed on the point and then burned about halfway before removing. Some ancient practices burned the moxa down, causing a tiny wound to galvanize the immune system.

  • Indirect: this moxibustion technique applies the herb indirectly near the patient by placing the moxa on an acupuncture needle, using a moxa stick close to the skin, using stick-on moxa on a point, or using a moxa box to affect a larger area of the body.

  • Moxa balms/liquids: these are applied onto the acupuncture point and then used with a heat source such as a heating pad or heat lamp.

What can it be used for?

  • Common cold

  • Trauma, bruising, scars, open wounds

  • Pain and inflammation

  • Prolapsed organs

  • Poor circulation

  • Fatigue

  • Fertility and menstrual irregularities, such as heavy bleeding and painful periods

  • Breech baby

  • Digestive issues

  • Prevention and immune boosting

  • Relaxation and stress reduction

Benefits

  • Warms the acupuncture channels and expels cold

  • Improves circulation and stops pain

  • Boosts yang energy

  • Regulates menstrual cycle and stops bleeding

  • Strengthens functional activity of the digestive tract

  • Prevents disease and maintains health

  • Strengthens the function of any organ that is prone to weakness

  • Induces a sense of well-being and relaxation


cupping gua sha moxibustion electroacupuncture

Electroacupuncture

Electroacupuncture is very similar to traditional acupuncture treatments. Acupuncture treatments involve the placement of needles in a specific acupuncture point, muscle(s), or an area of the body. During an electroacupuncture treatment, clips are placed on the needles allowing a low to mid-frequency electrical current to produce a muscle contraction, increase blood flow, and reduce pain.

Types

  • Transcutaneous - these units place electrodes on the skin using pads or a hand-held device to produce electrical neuromuscular stimulation.

  • Percutaneous - these units use electrodes attached to acupuncture needles to produce electrical neuromuscular stimulation beneath the skin.

What can it be used for?

  • Any pain condition

  • Muscle tightness, weakness, and inhibition

  • Injury recovery

  • Neuropathies

  • Women's menstrual disorders such as painful periods, fibroids, cysts, endometriosis

  • Fertility

  • Promoting labor

  • Digestive issues

Benefits

  • Better mobility and range of motion of muscles and joints

  • Promote blood flow and circulation

  • Muscle relaxation

  • Pain reduction

  • Stimulate nerve regeneration

  • Stimulate bone growth for injuries and arthritis


If you are curious about any of these modalities or would like to know if any of these would help with your condition, please feel free to contact me. I am available for free 15-minute phone consultations on Mondays! Click the contact button below to schedule.


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