Cupping, moxibustion and gua sha

In my clinic you’ll quite often see me using other therapies alongside the use of needles. During some treatments I may not even use needles if I feel like that’s the best treatment option for my patient. The other therapies I use may look scary but they are effective and painless treatments.



The Chinese character for acupuncture literally translates to acupuncture-moxibustion  so this tells us how the two therapies were used frequently together  to enhance the treatment but what is it and what does it do?


Moxibustion is the burning of the mugwort herb (moxa) on or near certain acupuncture points. The main purpose of using moxa is to warm and strengthen a person. It’s used in a variety of ways. This type of therapy is great for those who are generally a bit colder than the rest of us. Because moxa is quite warm in nature it also means that it can really get our blood circulating so those that suffer from cold hands and feet would really benefit from this treatment!

Other things it’s used for: Moxa is frequently used for turning breech babies and period pains.



Cupping has had a lot of press in the last few years with celebrities like Michael Phelps, Gwenyth Paltrow and Jennifer Anniston all sporting cupping marks. But why has it become popular all of a sudden?

Cupping is almost like a massage in reverse and can be even more beneficial than a massage. The cups pull up the skin and fascia allowing fresh blood and oxygen to circulate in the targeted areas. This loosens up the muscles underneath and the blood and oxygen can begin to heal the trauma or injury. The marks may look like bruises but they’re actually old, stagnant blood, lymph and cellular debris which have been brought to the surface. The more purple the marks the more you need cupping! The cupping marks can last 7-10 days so it’s worth mentioning to your acupuncturist if you have any events coming up.

In the clinic I use two different styles of cups – glass and plastic. When I use the glass cups I suction the air out using a flame and when I use the plastic ones I suction the air out with a pump. My decision on which to use will depend on where I want to place the cups and how much suction is necessary.

Other things it’s used for: Cupping can boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, loosen up phlegm in the chest, etc. In addition, athletes often use it for faster muscle recovery.


Gua sha

I have to admit, gua sha is one of the scarier looking therapies if you’ve only seen the aftermath of it. Partners of my patients often remark that it looks like they’ve been beaten up and my colleagues always joke that it looks like I’ve been given hickeys. That being said, gua sha is one of my favourite treatments to do and one of my favourite treatments to have done.

The translation of the word gua sha – Gua (to scrape) Sha (red spots) – tells us exactly what this treatment does. During treatment a tool will be used to scrape specific areas of the body until red colouring and spots appear. In China a spoon or coin were traditionally used. Jade gua sha tools are often used these days but it can be difficult to sterilise these tools between patients so I tend to use a single use, disposable lid as my preferred gua sha tool. Marks may last for 3-7 days.

Gua sha improves the micro circulation in the area that it’s used in. By causing micro traumas it increases blood flow and encourages the body to heal that area faster than simply resting or icing it.

I often use this treatment when a patient (or myself) is starting to come down with a cold or the flu. The theory in Chinese medicine is that pathogens enter the body through the neck so scraping around the neck opens up the pores to allow the pathogen back out. Used in conjunction with needles and lots of lemon and ginger tea it clears up a cold much quicker than suppressing it with cold and flu tablets.

Other things it’s used for: Gua sha can also be used diagnostically – the red spots can indicate that there’s muscle tension in that area that would benefit from being released using needles or cups.


So there you have it – acupuncture isn’t just needles and I’m glad to see these three amazing treatments are finally starting to get the recognition that they deserve in the mainstream media.

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