Acupuncture is rapidly becoming accepted in the United States as a safe and effective alternative medical treatment.  Medical research is establishing the validity of acupuncture in the management of acute and chronic pain, migraine headaches, digestive and menstrual disorders, as well as many other illnesses.  Acupuncture, however, is just one of the modalities that encompasses the field of Chinese Medicine.  Diet, Exercise, Meditation, Cupping and Moxibustion are all considered equally important healing powers in the context of Oriental Medicine.  The goal of Chinese Medical practice is to treat the body as a whole, rather than just fixing the symptom.  This requires looking carefully at all treatment and lifestyle factors that may affect the health of the body.  The arts of Cupping and Moxibustion are often misunderstood, although both can provide strong medicinal benefits if used appropriately.

Cupping is one adjunct therapy used frequently by acupuncturists.  It involves the use of a glass or plastic cup attached to the skin surface using a vacuum.  This cup may be left in one place or moved slowly over aching muscles for 10-15 minutes.  This treatment is not painful and feels similar to deep massage work.  It can be especially beneficial for patients that are new to Chinese Medicine and may have a sensitivity to acupuncture needles.  The therapy is soothing and can provide immediate relief from body aches and pains.

Cupping aids in healthcare and illness prevention in four main ways.  One, it is warming to the body and promotes the free flow of Qi (energy) and blood in the body.  Cupping is applied based on this function to treat circulation disorders, pain caused by stagnation of Qi and/or blood, and numbness or tingling in the extremities.  Cold hands and feet, menstrual pain, musculoskeletal disorders and headaches are all examples of disorders caused by a stasis of Qi or blood in the body.  If left untreated, this interrupted flow of Qi and blood in the meridians can lead to more serious ailments.  Further more, cupping can be used preventatively to increase circulation, balance energy in the body, and stimulate immune function.

A second function of cupping is to dispel cold and dampness in the body, two main causes of pain and illness in Chinese Medical Theory.  A weak patient or someone recovering from illness may be more susceptible to a cold invasion.  Just living at 10,00 feet in this cold and dry environment makes us all more likely to be affected by cold.  Coldness inhibits the free flow of energy in the body leading to pain and/or illness.  Examples of cold induced illnesses are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, numbness, lethargy, and runny nose.

Dampness accumulates in the body due to a weak digestive system, lack of exercise, and/or an unhealthy diet.  This can lead to a feeling of heaviness in the morning, general fatigue, or shoulder and neck tension.  Often, dampness is at the root of long term digestive weakness.  Using cupping, acupuncture, and dietary changes, healthy digestive function can be restored and symptoms of nausea, loose stools, and bloating disappear.  As the body begins to heal itself, energy levels will improve and the body will feel light and healthy once again.

Perhaps the most widely used function of cupping is to diminish pain and swelling.  It is extremely effective for relieving pain syndromes of the neck, shoulders, and back.  This technique brings deep, old injuries to the surface so the body can more easily release them.  Old injuries have often worked themselves into the deeper musculature of the body, causing stiffness and pain, especially in the morning.  Patients experiencing muscular tension can experience great relief from 10-15 minutes of cupping before any acupuncture needles have been placed.

Fourth, cupping is a great health maintenance tool used to rid the body of general toxicity.  We are exposed to so many toxins on a daily basis from the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the environment we live in.  Cupping, along with acupuncture, proper diet, and exercise, is extremely useful in maintaining good health and avoiding colds and flu.  It can be performed on a monthly basis alone or to complement any detoxification program.

Moxibustion is another supplemental therapy in Chinese Medicine used to treat and prevent disease by applying heat to specific points on the human body.  This type of treatment is commonly called  “moxa” and has strong medicinal value for many illnesses.  The Chinese classics state, “when a disease fails to respond to herbal medication and acupuncture, moxibustion is suggested.”  Moxibustion uses the application of the herb Artemesia Vulgaris, a dried and aged form of chrysanthemum.  This herb is applied to specific acupuncture points on the body to create warmth and stimulate healing.

Moxibustion benefits the body in several ways.  First, it regulates the smooth flow of Qi and blood in the body, similar in function to cupping.  Second, moxibustion warms the meridians, expelling cold and dampness from the body.  This allows moxa to be used in conjunction with cupping to treat disorders caused by cold and dampness discussed previously.  Third, the warming of certain points produces a slow heat that penetrates deeply into sore and painful muscles.  Lastly, moxibustion stimulates the immune system to prevent disease and keep the body healthy.

Common disorders aided by moxibustion include digestive illness, arthritis, low back pain, numbness in the finger and toes, and menstrual cramping.  Your acupuncturist can determine the amount and type of moxibustion that should be performed.  Overall, moxibustion therapy calms and warms the body, allowing for increased circulation and decreased pain.

General fatigue and susceptibility to colds and flu can also be helped with the application of moxibustion.  Moxa strengthens the bodies Qi, providing for increased energy throughout the day.  Often mood swings and energy slumps in the afternoon can be prevented.  Moxa increases the bodies resistance to colds and flu and can be especially helpful to patients who catch contagious viruses that circulate in the winter.  A compromised immune system not only causes sensitivity to increased colds and flus, but can lead to more serious illnesses.  A systematic 1-2 month treatment with moxibustion can significantly improve the strength of the immune system and the bodies resistance to disease.

Chinese Medicine seeks to treat the body as a whole, strengthening and balancing energy to prevent illness and pain.  Acupuncture is often helpful in the healing process, but using all forms of therapy to create complete mind and body health is optimal.  Ask about the use of cupping and moxibustion and whether these techniques could be beneficial in your treatment plan.

Jane Matthews, Licensed Acupuncturist, practices Chinese Medicine in Breckenridge using Acupuncture, Cupping and Moxibustion.