In addition to acupuncture, Oriental Medicine encompasses a wide range of treatment methods that stimulate the body’s healing response. Following are brief descriptions of some techniques that may be part of your treatment:
Auricular acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine that regards the auricle or outer surface of the ear as an energetic microsystem representing the body in an inverted fetal position, containing points that relate to all major organs systems and body areas and can therefore be used to both diagnose and treat the entire person. Tiny needles are placed within specific points as a highly effective means for the treatment of pain, musculo-skeletal disorders, and a broad range of other medical conditions.
Since the points on the ear allow direct access to various brain centers, auricular acupuncture is also very effective for calming the nervous system, reducing stress, anxiety and impulsiveness, as well as for diminishing cravings, making it a treatment of choice for smoking cessation, weight loss, and alcohol or drug addiction control. One particular approach, known as the NADA protocol, is commonly used in drug treatment centers to aid in the curbing of addictive tendencies.
The ancient healing technique of moxibustion, believed by some medical historians to even pre-date acupuncture, plays a very important role in the Traditional Chinese medicine and can be used either as an adjunct or stand-alone modality. There are a variety of moxibustion techniques, involving application of burning ground-up leaves of moxa, or mugwort plant, directly or indirectly to the skin.
The direct techniques involve burning small rice grain-sized cones of high-grade moxa over the skin for a few seconds, or burning large cones made out of loose moxa over a base of ointment, salt or garlic or ginger slices placed on the skin. In either case, the moxa is removed when the patient feels the heat is becoming intense.
Indirect techniques include the use of wooden or ceramic temple-shaped boxes, with the burning moxa suspended inside that are placed over specific areas of the body, application of cigar-like stick made out of rolled moxa leaves over specific acupuncture points or mounting small cylinders of moxa on the ends of acupuncture needles allowing the warmth of burning moxa to penetrate deeply into the point.
In any case, moxibustion treatment is administered to warm the body and stimulate acupuncture points, promote circulation, encourage smooth flow of blood and qi, and protect against cold and dampness. Moxibustion is very clinically effective when used to treat acute and chronic pain, digestive upset, women’s disorders, sexual and reproductive function, as well as multitude of other disorders.
Cupping is an ancient technique, originally called “horn therapy,” as animal horns were originally used for this treatment. Later, cups made of brass, ceramic, or bamboo were utilized, but today, glass cups in a variety of different sizes are most common. Therapeutic cupping involves heating glass jars with an open flame to create a vacuum and then quickly applying them to the skin. The resulting negative pressure causes draws the skin up into the cup, creating an effect similar to a very deep tissue massage and allowing for manipulation of the underlying tissues as far as four inches deep. The cupping is utilized to stimulate the flow of blood, lymph and qi to the body area requiring therapy. Its long history of use in conjunction with acupuncture has been well documented; however, it is also used as a therapy in its own right.
The primary purpose of cupping is to warm the area and cause an increase in the flow of both qi and blood through the body, and is often used to relieve muscle tension, stiffness and pain in larger body parts, like upper or lower back, neck and shoulders. In addition, it facilitates toxin release, reduces inflammation, relieves congestion and activates the lymphatic system and can be used to treat a myriad of other conditions, like colds and flu, gastrointestinal disorders, upper respiratory infections, arthritic conditions, facial paralysis (Bell’s palsy), as well as problems related to the internal organs.
Depending on the condition treated, the cups may be left in place for several minutes, or removed quickly and applied elsewhere. In some instances cups are placed over an acupuncture needle inserted into a point on the body. In cases of muscle tension and stiffness, moving or sliding cupping may also be performed, a method involving lubricating the skin with oil and sliding the cups over the affected area.
While cupping is a safe, effective and painless technique, the strong suction oftentimes leaves behind circular bruise-like marks, known as cupping kisses. This is, in fact, the desired result as it indicates the stagnant qi and blood have been moved and deep tension in the muscles has been released. The marks typically disappear within a few hours or days after the treatment.
Gua means to scrape or rub, while sha refers to a reddish, elevated, millet-like skin rash or petechiae, brought to the surface by vigorously scraping the oiled skin with a smooth, dull-edged tool to promote the circulation of qi and blood and normalize metabolic processes by pulling stagnant intercellular fluid congesting the tissues to the surface, removing toxic debris, and replacing it with fresh oxygenated, nutrient rich fluid, which in turn accelerates regeneration and revitalizes the particular region requiring therapeutic intervention. Sha is raised primarily on the back, neck, shoulders, buttocks, and limbs, but in some instances can be applied on the chest and abdomen. The treatment is indicated when normal finger pressure or palpation on a patient’s skin over the affected area causes blanching that is slow to fade.
Though most commonly used to treat stiff and achy muscles and address common colds, bronchitis and flu, gua sha is an excellent treatment for both external and internal pain conditions, and can be effectively used for the resolution of both acute and chronic disorders, such as degenerative diseases, migraines, chronic neck, shoulder and back pain, bone spurs, strains and sprains, menstrual disorders, insomnia, heart disease, hypertension, vertigo, sinusitis, ear and eye disorders, chronic infections, sciatica, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, bursitis, neuralgia, asthma, cysts and tumors, carpal tunnel syndrome, stress, digestive problems, breast pain, varicose veins, dermatological conditions, blood and inner organs disorders, and much more.
Gua sha is not painful, but leaves a reddening of the skin where toxins come to the surface to be released, which generally fades in a couple of days. The color of the sha is both diagnostic and prognostic. Very light colored sha indicate deficiency of blood, while dark red marks are a sign of internal heat or inflammation. Fresh-red colored sha signifies a recent condition, whereas purple or black sha indicates a long-standing blood stasis. In most cases patients find gua sha to be a pleasant and relaxing experience and feel an immediate shift in their condition after a treatment particularly if they are in pain or feeling achy and stiff.
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