Cupping and Gua Sha
Cupping is a technique commonly used in Chinese medicine. It has also been used in various cultures around the world over the centuries. Simple but effective, cupping involves the placement of cups (usually glass but sometimes bamboo or plastic) on the skin after a vacuum has been created inside the cup. The vacuum draws the skin slightly into the cup, creating a – usually pleasant rather than painful – sensation of pulling or stretching. This helps to release muscular tension and, in Chinese medicine terms, moves stagnant Qi and blood in the area. The practitioner may decide to leave the cup or cups in one place for a while. She might also use a method known as sliding cupping whereby the cup is moved around with the help of a little massage oil or lotion. For example a common procedure is sliding up and down the paraspinal muscles on the back. After the cups have been removed, Chinese massage (tui na) is applied to further encourage the release of muscle tension and the dispersing of stagnant Qi.
Following treatment with cupping therapy, there may be some red or reddish-purple marks left on the skin. These do not indicate skin irritation or damage, but are signs of blood and Qi moving into the area. They usually fade gradually over the next few days and are certainly not permanent. Generally speaking, the greater the degree of stagnation the stronger the marks appear.
Gua sha, like cupping, is a centuries-old folk medicine technique that is still used throughout Asia today. Gua is a Chinese term that translates as ‘scrape’ or ‘rub’. Sha refers to the little red dots (petechiae in Western medical terms) that are brought to the surface by the blunt-edged scraping tool that the practitioner uses over oiled skin. As with cupping, this technique is not painful to receive. In many cases the relief from muscular pain and stiffness is almost immediate. Once again, the practitioner follows up the gua sha with Chinese massage to enhance and complement the effects of the therapy. Any red rash-like marks left after treatment should fade and disappear completely within 2-3 days. It is important to note that such marks are not bruises or skin irritation and are simply the effect of blood being drawn to the skin surface by the scraping procedure.
Although both cupping and gua sha are primarily utilised for the relief of musculo-skeletal problems and muscle tension in particular, they have many other useful applications. Cupping, for example, helps speed recovery from a common cold and gua sha can prove enormously beneficial in reducing cough, wheezing, and asthmatic symptoms.