More than Acupuncture: Moxibustion, Cupping, and Gua Sha

Acupuncture is one of the most powerful and versatile therapies in Chinese medicine, but it is not the only one.  Acupuncturists use many techniques of Traditional East Asian Medicine.  Other techniques include moxibustion, gua sha, and cupping (as well as herbal medicine and acupressure).


moxa on backMoxibustion is the burning of an herb call mugwort, ai ye in Chinese, close to specific acupuncture points or on the needle itself.  It is used to warm and add energy to the acupuncture point.  It also is good for moving stagnation.

Moxibustion is central to acupuncture treatment, the word for moxibustion is actually in the Chinese for acupuncture- zhen jiu.  Zhen means needle, and jiu is refering to moxibustion.

Gua Sha

Gua sha is the rubbing of a coin or a spoon on the skin.  Often it is done on the upper and lower back, neck, and the ribs. It is a long time home remedy which is used for colds and fever, nausea, muscle aches and pain, as well as inhibited urination.

Often gua sha will break the blood vessels below the skin causing a bruise.  In Chinese medicine we say this breaks blood stagnation and releases heat.  Interestingly, if there is not too much heat present, or there is no blood stagnation, it does not create a bruise.


cupping on backCupping works in conjunction with acupuncture to relax muscles and increase circulation.  During this therapy, glass, wooden, or plastic cups are applied to the skin.  The inside of the cup is depressurized with a flame or a vacuum, so it then lifts up the skin below it.

This often leaves round bruises, which are mostly painless.  It helps to relax the muscles and increase circulation.  For more reading on cupping, I recommend this article at the Institute for Traditional Medicine.

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Joseph Alban, L.Ac.
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