Acupuncture is a safe, effective, and ancient practice that encompasses the use of fine, sterile needles, moxibustion, cupping, and gua sha along meridians and appropriate acupuncture points to treat disharmonies in the body. Nutritional and lifestyle counseling are integral to treatment as well. This whole person approach works with the body’s inherent self-healing mechanisms.
Acupuncture involves therapeutic touch, massage, and pressure on prescribed acupuncture points. Amma is a powerful bodywork therapy that involves gentle massage in order to balance the meridian system.
Cupping involves the use of glass or plastic “cups” that are placed on specific sites on your body. These cups create a vacuum through the use of heat or suction and, thereby, stimulate the flow of blood and qi to the area. Patients generally report that cupping feels like a deep massage. The suction usually creates a superficial circular bruise, as a result of stagnated blood and qi moving to the surface. The greater the stagnation of qi and blood, the more obvious the discoloration of the ecchymosis. This is a temporary and normal response that will disappear within a few days, as cupping and gua sha increase cellular turnover via the immune system.
Electroacupuncture or “estim” is traditional acupuncture with the application of mild, pulsating, electric current to the acupuncture needles. Acupuncturists use estim when a patient’s condition would benefit from prolonged needle stimulation at certain sites of soft tissue injury or nerve damage. For example, we might use estim to promote stroke recovery.
Gua sha or “spooning” is a painless, relaxing therapy used to release tension and promote blood flow to specific areas. Similar to cupping, gua sha usually leaves some residual redness or “sha.” Though this practice is par for the course in China, Vietnam, and Indonesia, the redness may be visually surprising and somewhat alarming to Western eyes. It is the same superficial bruising (subcutaneous ecchymosis) that occurs with cupping, except that it is not contained within a circle. Unlike deeper bruises with which we are most familiar, the “sha” or ecchymosis from gua sha is superficial and fades within 2-4 days. Instead of cups, a Gua sha tool creates more of a gentle scraping and feels like a massage.
This treatment uses a specific dried herb called mugwort to warm acupuncture points and certain areas on the patient’s body when that is pertinent. Studies have shown that moxa creates a thermal as well as chemical effect on the body. To start, it increases white blood cell and platelet count. It is a wonderful therapy for any patient, and especially for patients with cancer symptomatology.
A trigger point is a very tight knot in muscle tissue that causes a specific referral pattern of pain. For example, if you and your friend both have trigger points in your splenius capitus muscles, you will both have pain at the very top of your head because that is the specific referral pattern for that muscle. Acupuncturists, who are trained in Trigger Point Therapy, can release these knots using a special needling technique. Many patients, who are on the edge of getting surgery, do not realize their pain is coming from a group of trigger points. This therapy is truly a lifesaver for such patients and for athletes.