TAM Accessory Techniques

by Sarah Bartle

Sarah BartleSarah Bartle LAc

If you have visited Chicago Healing Center you have most likely experienced moxabustion, cupping or gua sha along with acupuncture. Moxabustion, cupping and gua sha are considered accessory techniques practitioners use to further a treatment. Moxa is the dried mugwort herb and is used to treat a myriad of symptoms such as fatigue, plantar faciitis, tight IT band, low libido and general inflammation. It is generally burned on the skin or close enough to generate heat. Cupping uses suction to pull stagnant blood from an inflamed area to encourage fresh, uninflamed blood to rush the area. Gua sha is a scraping technique performed on the skin with a flat stone. It is used to reduce cold and flu symptoms and muscle pain. Each of these techniques could have its own blog post and many books have been written about each technique. I am going to share a short case study to demonstrate the power of these accessory techniques to reduce inflammation.

My partner began experiencing De Quervain’s tenosynovitis pain in November 2017. He had pain in the tendons at the base of his thumb, the extensor pollicis brevis and abductor pollicis brevis were inflamed.

De Quervain’s is caused by repetitive motion such as lifting a baby or painting. My partner is a painter and his job was taking a toll on the tendons in his forearm. Since he is lucky enough to know an acupuncturist who makes house calls (our house) I took on the job.

I started out doing local acupuncture on his arm, particularly the channels that passed through the area that caused pain. I was shocked that this therapy made his pain worse. Next I tried gua sha with white flower oil. Gua sha is a scraping technique performed on the skin usually with a flat stone and white flower is a cooling oil. This also made his pain worse. I was getting frustrated. Nothing frustrates an acupuncturist more than a therapy not getting favorable results.

My partner had the month of December off from work. I told him that having a prolonged rest from work would surely give the inflammation time to reduce. After 4 weeks of no painting the pain was only getting worse. Now he was getting concerned he would need to quit his job. I got even more frustrated.

The major breakthrough came when he described the pain to me as ice shooting through his arm. Ah, ice! That is a symptom I can work with! Acupuncturists frequently ask their patients about perceived body temperature and for good reason. We use this as a diagnostic tool to help us know what temperature we should be using in our treatments. To combat an icy sensation we use heat. I began using moxabustion on his arm and wrist everyday. After two weeks the pain was down by 50%. Then I incorporated Po Sum On oil with gua sha on the forearm. Po Sum On is a warming oil with cinnamon, quite different from the cooling white flower oil that increased his pain. After 2 more weeks his pain was down 80%. The last step was incorporating cupping on the upper arm and shoulder. This released the last amount of pain and his pain was completely gone. After six weeks of regular moxa, gua sha and cupping he went from pain so bad he thought he would need to quit his job to the pain being completely gone. Now he requires maintenance treatments since he is still painting and does repetitive motions.

What I like so much about this case study is that it does not involve acupuncture. I was able to reduce his pain and inflammation using only “accessory” techniques. This demonstrates the importance of each technique under the umbrella of Traditional Asian Medicine. Acupuncture is the best known technique in America but moxabustion, cupping, gua sha, herbs and nutrition are extremely powerful techniques to heal the body.

Published on June 14th, 2018

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