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. 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, first appearing in Egyptian papyri and the writings of Hippocrates in Greece before being introduced to cultures all around the world including China in the 3rd century. Today it is often employed in musculoskeletal conditions but has historically also been used to help the body fight infections.

It often leaves circular marks that may look painful but are often barely noticeable and fade over a few days. As the bruises resolve the individual compounds that give them their unique colour at different stages are believed to assist in healing and overall health. The visibility of the marks have caused it to be noticed on several celebrities making it the most famous of the ancillary acupuncture techniques in the west.

Modern suction cupping Michael Phelps sporting cupping marks on his shoulder 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 edged object such as a coin or the edge of a spoon that is scraped against oiled skin until redness arrives.

This also originates in the west with Roman bathers being the first known to cover themselves in oil and scrape it off with a strigil but has been adopted by Chinese medicine since the Han Dynasty (2nd century). Some western physical therapists have revived 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 Gua sha on the back Gua sha being performed on the shoulders

"Plum Blossom" Technique

The "seven star" or "plum blossom" needle is a tool similar to a derma stamp or roller which are sometimes used in their place. They may be used in a similar way to cosmetic clinics to stimulate a response in the skin or as a method of strongly stimulating points.

A "Seven Star" needle A derma-stamp A derma-roller

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.