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Cupping and Gua Sha

Cupping therapy is usually used as part of acupuncture or body work treatment.

Cupping therapy involves heating the air inside a glass cup, which removes some of the air from the cup. The cup is then quickly placed on the skin, and the resulting vacuum pulls the skin part of the way into the cup. The cup may be left in place for several minutes and then removed, leaving behind a bright red, circular welt. Cupping moves and stimulates the body's natural energy - called qi.

Cupping applies suction to the surface of the body to draw out pathogenic factors or to invigorate the flow of Qi at the surface of the body.

Cupping is usually done by inserting a flame into a small glass cup to remove the air and create a vacuum. The cup is then deftly inverted onto the surface of the body where the cup is held firmly in place by the suction created by the vacuum effect. This method is called "fire cupping." There are also specially designed cups fitted with air lock valves that allow practitioners to remove the air with a hand-held pump.

Frequently, the practitioner will apply a lubricant to the skin before placing the cups, and then move the cups back and forth across certain area of the body. This combines the effects of cupping with dermal friction therapy (gua sha) and is called "sliding cup" technique.

Cupping is frequently used to treat early stage colds and flu, trauma, and muscle pain, especially in the back and shoulders.

Does it leave marks?

Cupping, like gua sha, leaves distinctive marks on the skin. While this is not harmful or painful, the markings are unsightly (resembling, as many patients describe them, "giant hickies and massive rug burns"). When cupping or gua sha is used on children, it is not uncommon for well-meaning child-care providers to mistake the markings as child abuse.

Understandably, TCM practitioners now provide their patients with informed consent information prior to the use of this therapy.

Gua Sha

Dermal friction therapy (called "gua sha" and pronounced "gwa shaw") is a method that involves increasing circulation at the surface of the skin by means of "scraping" the skin vigorously with a blunt edged object.

TCM practitioners usually use dermal friction therapy on the back, neck and shoulders, or the fleshy part of the limbs. The practitioner will often first apply a lubricant, such as sesame oil, Vaseline, or tiger balm, to the skin before scraping the area with the smooth, blunt edge of an object, such as a coin or the lip of a juice glass (a ceramic soup spoon is traditionally used in Asia).

Dermal friction therapy is usually done along one or more of the acupuncture channels, in a direction away from the center of the body, in short brisk strokes until the surface of the skin is well reddened, but not broken.

When is it used?

Practitioners use dermal friction as a way of treating early stage colds and flu, muscle painheadache, and fever. It is also frequently used as a home remedy in the treatment of fevers associated with colds and flu, and is especially favored in the treatment of children.

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