Chinese Fire Cupping is a practice used to improve blood flow, treat stagnation of Qi and blood, and to relieve pain. A flame is briefly inserted into a glass cup, which is then placed on the patient’s oiled skin. The cup is only slightly warm to the touch, but the vacuum causes the skin and superficial connective tissue layers to be pulled upwards into the mouth of the cup. This helps to break up adhesions and scar tissue in the fascia layer. The number of cups and the level of suction will vary based on the aim of the treatment. The cups may be left in place, or moved across the skin. One of our patients describes cupping as “like a massage from the inside out”!
Gua Sha has similar uses and indications as cupping, but involves scraping smooth porcelain, bone, or plastic tools across oiled skin.
Conditions commonly treated with cupping and Gua Sha include chronic muscle pain, respiratory congestion, and poor circulation. These treatments may be administered on their own, or in conjunction with acupuncture, massage, and herbal medicine.
Cupping and Gua Sha often cause a temporary blotchy discoloration of the skin, often pink or red but occasionally deep purple. Although not generally tender to the touch, these areas can resemble bruises. This effect is an expected part of these treatments, and is due to the stagnant and congested blood being released to the surface — cupping the skin of a person without any of the above complaints will often result in little to no discoloration. Skin areas that have received cupping or Gua Sha treatments should be kept covered and protected from cold and wind as much as possible until the discoloration goes away (usually within a few days). Your practitioner will give you specific instructions and answer any questions you might have about aftercare.