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Articles | Traditional Chinese Medicine | Cupping and Guasha

Cupping and Guasha

These two techniques, Cupping and Guasha, are closely related and highly effective. They form part of the "folk medicine" of the Orient and deserve a worthy place in the tool kit of any Oriental Medicine practitioner or bodyworker. They achieve clinical results that are otherwise very labour intensive to attain.

Cupping technique is the better known of the two techniques, having appeared in the 1970's film Zorba the Greek. Cupping technique is well known in many southern and eastern European cultures such as northern Italy, Greece, the Baltic states and Poland. I speculate the technique arrived in Europe from the Orient via the Silk Road trade route. The theory behind cupping technique blends well with ancient Greek theories of health and healing.

Early Chinese texts refer to cupping as a process to help expel "devils" or malevolent spirits. Similarly the Greeks referred to pathogenic "humours" or "winds" which could be expelled from the body.

Cupping Technique


The technique of cupping is simple. Generally, a specially made glass jar is used which is round and has a broad, flat edge. A flame is inserted briefly and rapidly into the jar; this is not enough to heat the jar but sufficient to heat the air in the jar and burn the oxygen. This has the effect of creating a partial vacuum. If the jar is quickly placed onto the skin, usually the back or belly, the vacuum causes the jar to stick to the skin. Indeed it will pull a quantity of skin and underlying tissue inside the rim of the cup. Effectively what is happening is the cup is acting like a local pump. By drawing on the tissues, the cupping automatically draws on or mobilises the local fluids. Therefore any of the pathogenic factors ("malevolent spirits") such as Heat, Cold or Damp will be dispersed.

It is important to understand that this technique is operating at two different levels. Take for example a condition of Cold in the Stomach and Spleen. In such a case we would apply cups to the Front Mu points of the Stomach and Spleen, CV 12 and Liv 13. The cups would be retained for 10 - 15 minutes and on removal it is very likely the skin at those points would be literally cold to the touch. So there is a literal, local effect that is readily observable; but more than this, there is a systemic effect: the cups are sending a message to body to disperse Cold from the Spleen and Stomach or to put it another way, the micro is effecting the macro.

Cups will usually leave a bruise which will itself be indicative of the level of congestion or invasion of the local tissues. You will be able to observe through the glass jar an immediate discoloration of the skin: a red colour indicates Heat; dark red/purplish indicates chronic Heat and/or stagnant Blood; a white sheen is indicative of Cold; moisture gathering in the jar indicates the presence of Damp. Occasionally blistering will occur which is generally indicative of depletion of Qi. The bruise will disperse gradually over a few days; darker bruising may take a week or ten days to fade completely.

Cups are frequently used on the Back Shu points and can therefore be directed at specific organs such as Large Intestine, Kidney, Spleen or Lung. They can be used on the scapula or on top of the shoulders as well as around the sacrum and buttocks. It is highly effective way of dispersing stagnant Blood around old injuries or areas of overuse such as in frozen shoulder syndrome. Any area of soft tissue is available for cupping as long as the skin is flat enough to create the suction. It is not appropriate to cup areas with insufficient flesh, such as the sacrum of a male. Excessively hairy skin can first be oiled to facilitate a stronger grip.