GUA SHA and CUPPING (or "FIRE CUPPING") are accessory Oriental Medicine healing techniques.
Having a wide variety of applications, gua sha and cupping are commonly used to treat stiffness, pain, and tension in the neck, shoulders, and back. Oriental Medicine states that muscle aches and pains result from stagnation, or lack of free flow within the areas due to overuse, stress/tension, strain, or injury (e.g. whiplash). Circulation to the muscles is thereby impeded and pain, stiffness, and spasms can arise. The technique of gua sha is applied to remove the stagnation lying in the muscles and restore free flow to the areas.
The word “gua” means “to rub” and the word “sha” refers to the stagnation of blood in the tissues. The technique of gua sha involves the process of dragging a device over the muscles (a pleasant sensation for most people) to bring this stagnation (sha) to the surface. If there is no sha in the muscles, there will be nothing visible on the skin after the gua sha is performed. If sha is present in the tissues, and when it surfaces to the level of the skin, you will be able to see it (and it feels a bit pebbly too, like sand).
Cupping is the technique in which a glass cup is applied to the skin and air pressure within the cup is reduced by using a small heating device or suction pump. This allows the skin and superficial muscle tissue to be drawn into and held up by the cup. The cups may remain stationary or may be moved with the suction in place, to glide across the surface of the skin. Discoloration will occur as the blood is drawn to the surface of the body, and stagnant materials may arise to the level of the skin, thus creating increased flow within the surrounding tissues.
Because the skin is a wonderful excretory organ, it then eliminates the toxins on its own. Drinking plenty of water helps this elimination process, which usually takes 2-5 days. The color and amount of toxins that are present are both diagnostic and prognostic indicators. The patient may experience immediate changes in stiffness, pain and mobility. Gua sha and cupping both encourage restoration of healthy metabolic processes and facilitate the delivery of nutrients and the elimination of toxins from the area.
Often we will perform gua sha briefly following an acupuncture session. Cupping is more commonly used during the treatment session, while the needles are still retained. If you are suffering from ongoing shoulder, neck and/or upper back tension or pain, you may be a good candidate for gua sha or cupping.