Moxa and Cupping
Moxabustion and cupping are considered to be part of the study of acupuncture. These techniques may either be used on their own or as an adjunct to acupuncture. They are also used in folk medicine traditions around the world.
What is moxa?
Moxabustion is the process of using moxa to apply heat to an area of the body. Moxa is an herb, Artemisia vulgaris or mugwort, which is burned on or over the skin. It produces a deeply penetrating warmth. People often say it feels like a soothing warm oil being poured on them.
The nature of moxa is warming and stimulating, and it moves the Qi. Moxa deeply warms the body, and feels very good on sore muscles. Because it makes Qi move, moxabustion can be used to enhance an acupuncture treatment. Because it is warm, it strengthens the Qi in the channels.
Moxa can be applied in several ways. Most common is with a “moxa pole” or “moxa stick”. A large cigar-like roll of moxa is lighted and then held at a comfortable distance from the body until the patient feels a pleasant heat spreading across the area. The sensation of “pole” or “stick” moxa is very comforting.
Another way is to wrap the metal handle of a needle with the herb, and then light it so it smolders, warming the needle. A third way is to roll it into tiny threads and set it on an acupoint. The acupoint has been prepared with a thin layer of ointment. An incense stick is used to light the moxa so it smolders down.
No matter which form of moxabustion is used, precautions are always taken to protect the body and prevent burning the skin.
Moxabustion is used for pain, especially in the back and joints. It is often used on the abdomen and legs for digestive problems. It is an invaluable therapy for certain types of menstrual pain. Moxa is used to strengthen deficiencies in different parts of the body. It is good for conditions like arthritis that are worse in the cold and damp.
Moxabustion is also useful when people are afraid of needles or are too weak to be needled. They can get a moxabustion treatment instead. Children usually enjoy the warmth of moxa.
Cupping is the application of suction cups to the body. It is a traditional treatment, either done alone or in conjunction with acupuncture. Sometimes the cups are left in one spot, while other times your acupuncturist will slide them along your back. The folk medicines of many cultures use some form of cupping.
To create suction, a vacuum is created inside a cup with a thick, rounded lip. Modern cups have a valve on top to which a simple pump can be attached. Sucking air out with the pump creates a vacuum. Once suction is adequate, the pump is removed and the cup sits on the surface of your skin until the treatment is complete, typically for 5-20 minutes.
“Fire cupping” is the more traditional method. A vacuum is created using fire inside the cup. An alcohol-soaked cotton ball is lighted and placed inside the cup for a few seconds. When the fire has depleted the oxygen, the cotton ball is pulled out and the cup placed on the skin. Suction is applied to the skin in this manner. As with the valve style, you will rest with these cups until the treatment is done. Fire cupping does not burn or feel hot on your body.
At Mystic River Acupuncture we use both types of cupping.
Cupping is most often used for pain, injury (such as sprained ankles), and respiratory problems. Sometimes it can be used for stress induced muscle knots, digestive problems, and other conditions.
In cases of injury the suction applied enhances circulation to the injured site. Increasing circulation reduces swelling, allowing toxins to flow away and nutrients to flow into the injured area. This speeds up the healing process.
With respiratory problems, the gentle suction can get phlegm moving, enabling the lungs can expel it. In other instances, the suction from the cups starts a flow of Qi which relieves congestion that may be causing pain, digestive issues, menstrual problems, and other ailments.
Cupping shouldn’t hurt. It usually leaves a cupping mark in the shape of the cup. This mark does not hurt will go away within a few hours to a week. The discoloration is darker when there is more Qi stagnation in the area being cupped. This means that cupping is diagnostic, as well as therapeutic.
Cupping can give immediate relief for some things, and can create a state of deep relaxation. Children do very well with cupping.
Your acupuncturist will be sure to talk to you about cupping and will never do this without your permission. You can come in for a session of just cupping without needles, or you can have a combination treatment.
Guasha is similar to cupping. However instead of using suction to stimulate an area of the body, friction is applied with a rounded instrument. Chinese soup spoons, baby food jar caps, and specially designed instruments made from buffalo horn or plastic are commonly used for guasha. Typically some sort of salve or cream is applied before applying the friction. Guasha is most often used for respiratory problems and muscular pain.
Magnet therapy is the application of tiny magnets to the acupoints. Magnets can be used instead of needles, or they can be used to enhance treatment after needles. Small gold plated 800 gauss magnets are taped onto the point. Either the north or south pole is used, depending on the treatment strategy. Magnets are good for children or people who may be afraid of needles. Patients often take magnets with them when they travel. Magnets are also an inexpensive addition to your first aid kit.
Shonishin is a traditional Japanese method of applying acupressure to the meridian points. Although originally used in pediatrics, shonishin can also be used on adults. Pressure or stimulation is applied to the meridians using plastic, wooden or metal massage tools. Because of its noninvasive nature, shonishin is ideal for infants and children and for adults who are very frail, or afraid of needles.