While acupuncture is the most frequent hands-on modality used by Chinese medicine practitioners, there are several other ways of stimulating acupuncture channels and points. These are sometimes used in addition to needling, or can replace it in certain circumstances. These modalities are especially wonderful for those who have needle phobia or for whom staying still with needles inserted is difficult or impossible (as with small children).
Cupping & Guasha
Cupping is the use of glass or silicone cups to create a vacuum against the skin that allows the skin surface to be stretched and compressed as the cups are manipulated. It is something like a massage, though the real recipient of the work is the skin, fascia and lymphatic system, rather than the muscles themselves.
Cupping has been used most visibly by athletes – but you don't have to be an Olympian to get the positive benefits! I use cupping chiefly for respiratory ailments (cups on the chest and shoulders) and various musculoskeletal conditions. While it often leaves marks on the skin for a few days, most people find this a small price to pay for the pain relief and added mobility they receive in return.
Guasha is somewhat similar in that it can leave markings and is used chiefly in musculoskeletal conditions, but the tools used are different. In Gua Sha, flat pieces of plastic, bone or sometimes ceramic are used to scrape against the skin in relevant areas. The sensation can be mild or quite intense, depending on the clinical need and your comfort level. Most find it to be remarkably effective at increasing range of motion and reducing pain in certain conditions.
There are several other bodywork type modalities used in the context of Chinese medicine, but I do not tend to use these in my own practice.
One of my favorite non-needle acu therapies is moxibustion (the first “i” is pronounced as in “bit” not “bistro”) – also called “moxa” for short. This is the use of the herb mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) on or over the skin – usually around acupuncture points or along the course of acupuncture channels. It's a warming therapy and feels wonderful particularly in the winter. It is effective, when used properly, to help treat a variety of conditions particularly those that are caused by cold – as assessed by Chinese medicine diagnostics.
Moxa comes in many formats, including those that are burned directly on the skin (without burning the skin, obviously) as well as those that are held distant from the skin in a rolled or charcoaled form. The moxa itself has a rich, herbal scent that some people find to be quite pleasing. The mugwort plant, burned as well as hung to dry, is traditionally used to cleanse a place or to dispel “bad energies” or even “ghosts.” While I've not run into many ghosts, I have found that moxa smoke seems to be mentally soothing, and often helps people to rest more deeply during an acupuncture treatment.
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