Q. I’ve recently seen news reports about the practice of "cupping," used in Chinese medicine. What is cupping, and what other practices does Chinese medicine have to offer?
A. Traditional Chinese medicine encompasses many forms of treatment. In addition to acupuncture, herbal medicine, and diet therapy, two of the best-known therapies used are cupping and moxa.
Cupping gained national media attention recently when actress Gwyneth Paltrow wore a strapless dress to a movie premier, revealing what appeared to be reddish-colored bruise marks on her back. Paltrow had been to her Chinese medicine practitioner and received a cupping treatment.
Cupping is the art of using glass cups that create suction on the skin to stimulate qi (pronounced chee). The cups are typically heated with a lighted cotton ball, although some cupping is done without heat and only suction is used. The cups are left in place up to 30 minutes, or they are pulled along the skin — a technique known as "running cupping."
Cupping is often used by acupuncturists when a patient has what is referred to in Chinese medicine as "stuck qi and blood," which is often associated with conditions such as lung congestion, muscle pain, lower back pain and arthritis.
Moxa, like cupping, is often used in conjunction with acupuncture treatments. Made from Artemisia, moxa has been used in China for thousands of years. In Chinese medical terms, moxa is most commonly used to "warm the interior," "expel cold" and "move qi and blood."
In Western terms, this means that it can help alleviate pain, relieve conditions that cause a person to feel cold, and increase circulation in joints or other areas of the body.
Some practitioners use moxa by heating it and applying it along with acupuncture needles inserted into the skin. This helps to drive the warming properties of the herb deep into the acupuncture point, providing a more stimulating effect.
Moxa also can be used without acupuncture needles.
I sometimes light a "moxa stick," which is tightly rolled into what looks like a cigar, to stimulate acupuncture points on the body by gently warming them.
This is an effective way to use moxa for acupuncture points that can be sensitive to needles, such as those on the bottoms of the feet; when appropriate cautions are observed, it’s also a great treatment that patients can safely do at home.
Article was originally printed in the Honolulu Advertiser, honoluluadvertiser.com