The Acupuncturist’s Toolbox

Laser Acupuncture

We now feature the acupuncture laser from Luminex. It is designed to be most effective for the treatment of inflammations such as tendinitis, bursitis, and injuries. It is completely safe and effective. We recommend laser treatments two to three times weekly for these conditions.


At your visit we may suggest that cupping is the best treatment for your condition. We might also do this at the end of your acupuncture treatment.

The purpose of cupping is to increase blood flow in the problem tissue, stretch the underlying muscle and connective tissue, and help clear waste material from the tissue by stimulating lymph and blood flow. The end result is pain relief and increased flexibility in the DSC09539area treated. In this procedure, glass or plastic “cups” are attached to the body, most often the back or neck. Either a suction pump or a flame quickly withdrawn from the cup will provide the suction. The patient will feel a mild suction while the cups are left in place for 5 to 15 minutes. Often massage oil will be used to lubricate the skin before placing the cups. In some cases the cups are moved back and forth in a type of massage called “moving” or “sliding” cups.  After cupping there may be a mark

DSC01060appearing on the back which can vary from either a simple ring-shaped depression from the edge of the cup, to a raspberry or ‘hickie,’ to a circular purple bruise, depending on the health of the underlying tissue. Many patients request cupping for its effectiveness. There is virtually no risk to the patient in cupping. Some practitioners use Gwa Sha instead of cupping.


Gwa Sha

Gwa Sha Spoon
Gwa Sha means ‘scraping stagnant blood’ in Chinese. This refers to the idea that when muscles are tight and stiff, it is often described as stagnant blood in their medical terminology. Gwa Sha is used in many of the same cases as cupping, to relieve pain and increase flexibility in the back, neck, and shoulders. It is preferable to cupping in some cases because it is quicker, more focused, and can be used more efficiently in smaller areas. It can also be done at home.

In this procedure, the practitioner rubs the blunt edge of a scraping tool such as this spoon across the skin, leaving a raspberry or hickie. The tool may be the rounded edge of a jar lid, the edge of a chinese soup spoon, or a specialized gwa sha tool. The skin is lubricated with oil or liniment first. The edge  of the tool is then dragged strongly across the area of discomfort. The resulting mark will disappear in 3-5 days. The appearance of the marks can be alarming, but the effect is profoundly positive. Patients often ask for this treatment. Despite the appearance, the skin is never broken during gua sha, and the treatment is comfortable for the patient. Just as in cupping, there is negligible risk to the patient from gwa sha.



gold moxaMoxa treatment is a traditional alternative to needles for stimulating the acupoints. The word “Moxa” is the Chinese form of the word “Mogusa”, which is the Japanese word for Mugwort. Mugwort is also known as Artemisia vulgaris. It comes in many varieties, several of which are commonly found in American annual and perennial gardens. The well-known “Dusty Miller” is one of the artemisias. This group of plants generally have silver or grey leaves, with fuzz or hair on the surface. When these herbs are dried, the moxa is produced by rubbing the dried herb to remove everything but the fuzz or fiber of the plant. In Japanese acupuncture, the gold moxa which is seen above, is the pure fiber of the plant. It is often aged for many years to allow the essential oils to evaporate. Thus when it is burned, it burns at a lower temperature.

In using Moxa, the infrared radiation from the burning of the material near the skin enters the acupuncture points and has a supportive effect on health. Moxa may be used instead of needles on the acupoints. It may be used on the handles of the needles as people have seen done in the movies of Steven Segal. It is usually used during acupuncture treatment along with needling. It may also be used at home by the patient, and is very safe when used properly. Moxa is the primary technique for turning breech babies. Your practitioner can tell you more about this.

There is a traditional saying in China that “the heat of moxa sinks.” This alludes to the idea that the heat produced by burning moxa has a special affinity for the body and will go downward into the body and move into the meridian systems. It is often used in cases where it is thought that cold has injured the body, or where the body is deficient in its heat, thus allowing diseases of a cold nature to occur. The aroma of burning moxa is often smelled in the offices of practitioners of Asian medicine, and in Japan it is associated with nurturing or mothering, similar to the way we associate chicken soup with nurturing and being comforted when we are sick.


Moxibustion refers to the act of heating the points with the heat from burning moxa. This can be done in a number of ways. In one method, smalls balls of the fluffy herb are placed upon the handles of the needles to warm the needles and the skin around the points during treatment. In another method, moxa is rolled into balls and placed directly upon the skin and is burned either in a way that leaves no mark, or in a way that intentionally leaves a small reddened spot. Research from Japan shows conclusively that burning moxa on the skin in this way can raise white blood cell counts in patients who have abnormally low white counts due to disease or chemotherapy.

DSC03759In another method, moxa herb is rolled in paper, like a cigar. The moxa roll is burned near the needles so as to heat them, or so as to heat the skin. Moxa rolls or “sticks” are used in the treatment to rotate breech babies. Treatment with moxa rolls can be done by the patient at home for a variety of conditions. In the photo above, a moxa stick made of charcoal is used to heat Bladder 67 for the turning of a breech baby.

Moxa cones

In the photo at left, several cones of Japanese gold moxa are pictured. These would be used upon the skin in direct moxa treatment. In the bottom right photo, moxa is being used on the skin to gently warm the acupuncture points and impart yang energy into the body. DSC01058The burning cone is quickly removed as soon as the patient feels its heat. The practitioner picks up the burning moxa and extinguishes it. In Japanese, this is called Kyutoshin. It is pleasant for the patient, and energizing as well.


Ear Acupuncture, or Auriculotherapy

For many years the Chinese have known that the ear presents a map of the body upon its surface. This is much like the map of the body that occurs on the foot in Reflexology, or upon the iris in Iridology. The ear map has the body represented upside down, with the head in the earlobe area, and the feet at the top of the ear. The inner organs are found in the deepest part of the ear, and the spine runs along the raised ridge near the curved edge of the ear. This model was originally proposed by a French physician and has been refined greatly over the past 50 years.IMG_1612

We know that particular points on the ear surface will become tender or show some mark like a flaky spot or pimple when a disease affects that area. By the same token, placing a needle in the corresponding part of the ear can help the diseased part of the body.
We also know from research that when an acupuncture point is active or pertinent, it allows a greater amount of electricity to pass through it. The skin shows an increased electrical conductance, or a decreased resistance to the passage of electricity. This resistance of the skin to the passage of electricity is called Galvanic Skin Resistance or GSR. GSR is measured as part of the standard lie detector test, and is used in biofeedback training since it becomes lower as people relax.

The acupuncture points on the ear also allow greater amounts of electricity to pass through the skin (decreased GSR) when they are active or relevant to a condition. We can use a point detector like that pictured at right (the Stim Flex instrument), to find the exact location of the active acupuncture points on the ear.

Ear Needles
Auriculotherapy is another term for Ear Acupuncture. We call it auriculotherapy because in this procedure, we might use a gentle electrical stimulator, known as the Stim Flex or the Japanese Hibiki, instead of needles for treatment of the ear acupoints. This is more comfortable and more accurate than ear needling. The Stim Flex instrument was developed as a part of a research study done at UCLA in which the traditional ear maps of China and France were validated. Patients with known medical conditions were assessed with the Stim flex, and maps of their ears showed where their disease showed up on the ear surface.

The Stim Flex allows us to have a great degree of accuracy in finding the active points for a given patient, and has produced a much more detailed ear map than we have ever had before. Point detection instruments such as the Stim Flex and Hibiki give us real objective data about the condition of the patient and how best to address it. Patients can hear an audio signal that indicates when the probe is touching the active point. They enjoy knowing that the most effective points are being located by the acupuncturist.

DSC01080Patients like the ear machine because with the audio feedback speaker, they can hear when the probe detects an active ear point, because the treatment so gentle. Patients often become relaxed during the ear treatment with the machine, just as they would with the ear needles, but with much less pain. They also appreciate the fact that we are basing our treatment on scientifically valid data from the machine, rather than just pulse or tongue diagnosis.