Other Techniques

There are three ancillary techniques that are usually included under acupuncture. Since they tend to leave marks they are less popular among western audiences and I can usually find alternative methods to achieve the same effect.

I present them here as they are available to those more familiar with Chinese medicine and the adventurous. If I really think they are the best method for you I will explain and discuss their use first.


Cupping is when suction cups are places on points of the body or slid over oiled skin like a reverse massage, pulling the skin away from underlying tissues instead of pressing down.

It is a traditional practice in many cultures around the world including China, Africa, the Middle East and Europe. Today it is often employed in musculoskeletal conditions, especially when increased blood circulation to an area is desired, but historically has been used to help the body fight infections since ancient Egyptian times.

It often leaves circular marks that may look painful but are often barely noticeable and fade over a few days. The visibility of the marks have caused it to be noticed on several celebrities and discussed in the media a few times making it the most popular of the ancillary acupuncture techniques in the west.

Modern suction cupping

An Olympic swimmer sporting cupping marks on her back

Traditional "Fire Cupping" where a flame creates the vacuum

Gua Sha 刮痧

Gua sha ("scraping rash") is a similar procedure to cupping with similar aims and effects but uses a blunt object (traditionally the edge of a soup spoon) that is scraped on the skin until redness arrives. Some western physical therapists have adopted this technique referring to it as "Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization" or "Graston Technique". Like cupping this usually leaves markings in straight lines that look far worse than they feel.

A similar method without tools is Jiusha 刮痧 ("grasping rash") where the skin is repeatedly grasped to increase circulation to the surface. It is quite a strong form of stimulation and leaves diamond shaped "Sha".

A Gua sha tool

An artistically done full back Gua sha

Jiu sha marks

"Plum Blossom" Technique

The "seven star" or "plum blossom" needle is a tool similar to derma rollers or stamps used in cosmetic clinics which are sometimes used in their place. It looks like a small plastic hammer with a spiked head that is tapped against the skin until redness arrives with the aim of stimulating a healing response.

A "Seven Star" needle

A derma-roller

Marks left afterwards

I consider these as somewhere between massage and acupuncture: they work on the surface of the skin like massage but utilize tools like acupuncture does to have a stronger effect. The marks they leave can also be seen as crossing the line between medicine and body art: etching the points and meridians we have been working on, bringing our attention back to the treatment for the next few days.