Most people know that one way to feel better is with acupuncture needles. You go to your acupuncturist feeling bad. I put in a few needles. You leave feeling lighter, energized, more pain-free.

Using acupuncture needles to heal is part of a broader medical system called Chinese Medicine (CM). By observing principles in nature, CM developed a medical philosophy about the flow of blood. In fact, we know when blood flow is disrupted, blocked or unbalanced, poor health is the result.

In acupuncture, needles stimulate underlying tissue inside the body to help restore normal blood flow. However, did you know that needles are just one way to stimulate blood flow?

In deed, CM is a flexible system. The principles can be applied in many ways and to many different therapies to achieve the same results.

In the following 2 part series, we will look at the many ways you can restore blood flow. This first part of the series describes the CM therapies that require the help of a practitioner.

Chinese Medicine Therapies You Receive in an Office Visit

Acupuncture Variations

There are many variations of acupuncture. Some techniques attach electrodes to the acupuncture needles to deliver a small current to the acupuncture point. Other techniques focus solely on the points in your ears, hands or scalp. There are even therapies that use sound to stimulate the body.

Acupuncture Variations

Herbal Medicine

Chinese Herbal Medicine has a sophisticated pharmacy. Most of the medicinal formulas are herbal but some formulas include animal or mineral ingredients as well. Unlike Western herbology, Chinese Herbal Medicine does not use single herbal remedies. As a consequence, formulas can have as many as 18 ingredients.

There are many ways to ingest the herbs. For example, people traditionally boiled the herbs to make a decoction. In short, this method is time consuming and can taste terrible. As a result, more and more CM formulas are available as liquid extracts, tablets, capsules or granules. Also, when a formula is used topically it is available as a lotion, cream, salve or poultice.

Chinese Herbal Medicine


Moxibustion uses heat to warm acupuncture points. There are 2 ways to heat the points—direct and indirect. The direct method uses tiny cones of moxa (dried mugwort) placed on the skin. The moxa is lit and the combination of the heat and the medicinal qualities of the moxa stimulates circulation. In some cases, burning the skin is desirable as part of the treatment. Also, burns can be an unintended outcome.

The indirect method is most popular technique. The practitioner can control the heat more easily. A cigar-like stick of moxa is lit and held it near the skin until the skin is warm. Alternately, acupuncture needles are inserted into the skin and warmed with smoldering stick.


In a cupping treatment, the practitioner uses suction to pull on skin and soft tissue. This pulling stimulates circulation and promotes healing.

There are 2 ways to create suction—with heat or a pump. In the first technique, the practitioner takes a plastic or glass cup the size of a baby food jar and ignites a flame inside of it. The flame causes a vacuum inside the cup and it is immediately placed on the skin. The second technique uses a pump to create a vacuum inside a rubber cup. In both cases the vacuum inside the cup pulls on the skin to create the therapeutic effect.

Gua Sha

Gua Sha is a CM therapy typically used to treat pain, remove toxins, and improve circulation.

In this treatment the skin is coated with oil and rubbed or scraped.  A rounded instrument is the preferred tool (like a coin, spoon or piece of buffalo horn). Typically the back, neck or shoulders are scraped, but occasionally the chest or abdomen as well. The strokes follow the direction of the ribs and spine and leave distinctive long, red patches on the skin.

Gua Sha


Tuina is medicinal massage. This CM therapy uses massage techniques to stimulate circulation. You wear loose, comfortable clothing and may be seated or lying down. During the treatment the practitioner may use a wide range of techniques, from massaging the soft tissue, acupressure, herbal compresses, liniments, ointments or heat.

While Tuina may result in stress reduction, pain relief or increased range of motion, the treatment itself may be uncomfortable. In short, many of the massage techniques can be quite vigorous and deep. The purpose of the massage is to restore circulation. The result is that you leave feeling lighter, freer and more energized.

All of these CM therapies require a practitioner. If you are curious about any of them, give me a call and I’ll be happy to help you determine the right therapies for you.

And if you are a Do-It-Yourselfer, you are not forgotten. In the next part of this series, you will learn CM therapies that you can do at home.

Traditional Chinese Medicine - Tuina