You may have seen the picture of Michael Phelps winning his 19th Gold Medal with circular bruises on his shoulder and down his arm. Those are cupping marks. They can be purple, pink, or red. You might have also seen people with reddish irritated skin, which looks like little red dots of broken capillaries. That is the mark of guasha.
The last Olympics brought these two ancient Chinese medicine therapies out into the forefront of public awareness. There was even a New York Times article discussing the phenonmen of world-class athletes and cupping. The article strongly hints that many Olympians are experiencing a placebo effect with cupping. However, anyone who has actually ever had cupping knows that calling cupping a placebo treatment is like saying that a thirsty man feels better after drinking water because of the placebo effect.
Cupping vs Guasha
With cupping, specialized glass or plastic cups are heated with a flame to create a vacuum, or applied to a pump (the more modern way to create a vacuum). The cup draws the skin and tissue upwards, into the cup.
With guasha, the provider takes a specialized instrument, such as a rounded piece of jade or the edge of a ceramic spoon, and scrapes along the skin.
When performed correctly, neither guasha nor cupping should be particularly painful. In fact, pain relief should be almost instantaneous.
How do guasha and cupping promote healing?
When you drink water, you help your body improve its internal flow. You need water in literally every cellular process, including processing your thoughts and emotions. Physically, your cells are rejuvenated by water, because water, blood, and bodily fluids bring nutrients to cells and clean away waste. Emotionally, you feel better because (unless you are a VERY highly advanced spiritual being) your mental health is closely tied to your physical body.
In East Asian medicine, much of healing is understood to be related to flow, both physical and energetic. When a muscle is locked-down, strained, or otherwise injured, there is typically a reduction in flow. The fascia becomes tight, and tendons, muscles, and other tissues become “starved” for nutrients. Waste products accumulate, and the mind, body, and spirit begin to feel the strain.
When we perform cupping or guasha, we cause temporary trauma to the tissues that are blocked. The body responds by increasing blood and Qi flow to the area, which clears waste and brings nutrients. Tight and starved tissues are stretched and relaxed, flooded with blood, and healing begins.
How is cupping and guasha evaluated?
Typically, not all skin will create the tell-tale cupping circles or red guasha irritation. Where there is blocked or stagnant Qi and blood, those areas will “bruise” the worst. The color of the circles from cupping are a diagnostic tool for the Chinese medicine physician, with purple or dark circles pointing towards an imbalance of cold in the area (or perhaps even systematically), while bright red circles indicate an imbalance of heat. The imbalances can be addressed with Chinese herbs.
I think my Chiropractor does Cupping and Guasha. But he calls it something different.
Chiropractic doctors now offer something that they call Graston Technique. Like Dry-Needling is re-branded acupuncture, Graston Technique is re-branded guasha.
The main difference between guasha and Graston technique is that it costs thousands of dollars for a chiropractic doctor to gain certification and a kit for Graston technique, whereas guasha is considered an essential part of East Asian medicine education, and nearly all Licensed Acupuncturists receive training in guasha as a regular part of their 4-year medical education.
Did you know that Chiropractic is actually East Asian medicine? It is true — it originated in ancient China and was brought over to Europe. Today, many chiropractors use much gentler techniques (such as the Activator) instead of the very physical “cracking” of traditional and ancient Chinese adjustments. Today’s modern chiropractors also often prefer to explain what they are doing by referencing physical structures, such as nerves and the spinal cord. But, as we know, the physical body cannot be separate from the mental, emotional, and energetic one. Most schools of chiropractic include training and theory on acupuncture and energetic flow. As an originally East Asian medicine, chiropractic is both physical and energetic medicine.
What can we say? When something works, everyone wants to do it!
However, it is not as simple as “if it hurts, stick a cup on it” or “if it hurts, scrape it.” Like with acupuncture, certain points and areas of the body do different things when cupped, rubbed, or scraped.
At Chiyu Center, we always recommend working with someone who acknolwedges that what they are doing affects the body on multi-dimensional levels, and understands the theory behind the results — who knows why it works, when it is contraindicated.
The bottom line is that both cupping and guasha are ancient Chinese medicine practices. They are rooted in both physical and energetic theory, and both are absolutely EXCELLENT for pain relief.
If you have not tried cupping and guasha yet, why not now?
You could live the next few months or years in increasing pain… or you could create a new future for yourself, starting today, with a simple and relaxing treatment that actually WORKS.
Just look to Michael Phelps and the other Olympians. Their careers depend on their performance. Their bodies exemplify the pinnacle of what the physical body can do. If they trust and depend upon these practices to keep them in top, competitive shape, doesn’t that say something undeniably powerful? Who cares if science does not understand and cannot explain it? Don’t worry, science will be able to… someday.
But why wait? If you’re in pain now, don’t. Our modern world-class athletes have paved the way for us. All you need to do — to regain your peak athletic performance or to simply be pain free as you play with your family and friends — is follow in their footsteps.
See you soon!