Although acupuncture is much less painful and scary than most people expect, I also understand that there are instances in which non-needle treatments are preferred. Non-needle therapies are a good option for people who are extremely fearful of needles, for people who are unable to sit still long enough for acupuncture treatment, for children, and for individuals with severely compromised immune systems. I often also use non-needle treatments in conjunction with acupuncture and physical therapy with very positive results.
Moxibustion, or moxa as it is often abbreviated, is a heat application technique used to warm and or activate the acupuncture points or areas on the acupuncture channels to increase Qi and blood flow. This approach has a relaxing and comforting affect. It uses a special preparation of the herb Chinese mugwort or artemesia (also abbreviated as moxa) that is refined down to be placed on the end of needle or directly on the skin. When used directly on the skin, a rice grain size ball of moxa is placed on the acupuncture point and lit. The burning moxa is then removed before it burns down to the skin to prevent any possible burning. Most patients find this technique very relaxing and comforting. It can also be used as an alternative to a needle, thus is a great way to stimulate points for a needle sensitive person.
Moxibustion is used extensively in Japan and has been scientifically studied to show a variety of benefits. These benefits include:
- Increased production of white blood cells
- Increased production of red blood cells and hemoglobin
- Increased circulation and decreased pain
- Improved immune function
Cupping is a technique designed to stimulate the flow of Qi and blood within the superficial muscle layers. It is useful for sore muscles, tension, neck pain, chronic back and low back pain, acute sprain and injury and the common cold.
In this therapy, oil is applied to the skin and then large glass cups are placed over specific areas on the body. A vacuum or negative pressure is created inside the glass cup using heat just before it is placed on the skin. This vacuum or negative pressure causes the skin to be gently pulled inside the cup, manipulating the internal environment under the skin. The cups are then moved over a specific area.This technique may cause redness of the skin.
The negative pressure suction utilized during cupping therapy works to:
- Loosen adhesions and lift connective tissue
- Drain excess fluids and toxins
- Increase blood flow to undernourished and/or stagnant areas
Gua sha is a traditional Oriental bodywork technique used in many parts of Asia as a home remedy. Most often used for muscle soreness and tension, it can be applied to many parts of the body. It’s not often used in this country because of the temporary red marks it leaves on the skin, but I find it invaluable for many types of conditions.
It is the fastest way I know to release muscular tension, and works amazingly well to remove pain from both recent and old injuries. It is also an excellent treatment for colds and flu. I apply it most often to the upper back, shoulders and neck (where many people store tension and stress), but it can also be used across the low back and buttocks and down the legs for low back pain, sciatica, knee pain, and menstrual problems; and down the shoulder and arm for injuries and tendinitis.
The particular technique of gua sha involves scraping the skin with a smooth tool. I first learned this technique using a ceramic soupspoon and find this continues to work quite well. I apply a Chinese liniment oil as a lubricant. As the skin is scraped, it turns pink from the stimulation. Where there is no tension, the normal skin color returns in a few minutes. In areas of tension or stagnation, however, where the blood flow is restricted, the blood is forced out of the capillaries and forms red dots under the skin. The ‘rash’ takes 2-3 days on average to disappear.
Where the blood has been forced from the capillaries, new blood must flow in. The body must also clean up the blood no longer in the capillaries. The result of these two processes is an improvement in the circulation in the area.
If muscles are so tight that they are ischemic, then nourishment cannot flow into them, and waste products cannot flow out. It is not surprising, then, that pain is a result.
A classic Chinese medical aphorism states: No free flow, pain; free flow, no pain. One of the bases of Chinese medicine is ensuring the free flow of Qi and Blood to all parts of the body to maintain health. Gua sha immediately improves circulation where it has been applied. I use acupuncture both before and/or after gua sha to help the muscles remember how to relax.