Chinese Medicine: Acupuncture & Cupping

Chinese Medicine

In the US many of us grow up believing that the only choice for treatment is conventional medicine. We’re often taught that surgery is the only way to fix serious health issues, and that only prescription medications can wipe out disease.



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cm_slide_6Meanwhile, in many other parts of the world patients seek out integrative and alternative medicine to treat a wide range of health issues. They believe that a combination of conventional and alternative techniques can lead to optimal health. Chinese Medicineis a type of alternative medicine that is gaining popularity in the US.


Chinese medicine encompasses a variety of therapies and treatments. They include moxibustion (an herb is burned above the skin to apply heat to acupuncture points), herbal medicine, tui na (therapeutic massage), dietary therapy, and tai chi. Chinese medicine works naturally with your body, using its innate ability to heal itself.


The treatment schedule for Traditional Chinese therapies vary from service to service. Acupuncture for example, often requires one to two session per week for four to six weeks.

Cupping works best when multiple sessions are given over a period of time. The specific treatment schedule is dependent upon the patient’s needs. The gravity of a patient’s condition may call for greater or fewer treatments.


Chinese medicine is rooted in the ancient philosophy of Taoism developed more than 2,500 years ago. While western medicine often focuses on treating illness and disease, traditional Chinese medicine emphasizes achieving health and wellbeing. Chinese medical practitioners believe in the power of harmony and balance. Those who have harmony have health and wellbeing, and those who have disharmony suffer from illness and disease.

Acupuncture is a popular Chinese medicine technique. According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), an estimated 3.1 million US adults had used acupuncture the previous year. The number of visits to acupuncturists tripled between 1997 and 2007. About 2.3 million Americans practiced tai chi and 600,000 practiced qi gong.


Chinese herbal medicine utilizes a variety of plants, minerals and animal products for medicinal purposes. Different parts of a plant including the leaves, roots, stems, flowers and seeds are used and given to patients in teas, capsules, powders and liquid extracts.

Acupuncture involves the stimulation of specific points on the body using a variety of techniques. The most common technique is to penetrate the skin with thin, solid, metal needles that are manipulated by electrical stimulation or by the hands.

Cupping involves placement of hot dry or wet cups on the skin to create suction and promote blood flow.

What to Expect

If Chinese Herbal therapy is your treatment of choice you will first need to have a consultation with an herbalist. They will ask questions to assess your health, and to attain your health history. He or she will then prescribe herbs as a primary therapy or as a complement to other treatments.

Cupping therapy involves heating cups and placing them on the skin to create suction. Skin marking is often common after cups are removed from the skin.

If about to engage in acupuncture treatments make sure to have a snack or light meal. Comfortable clothing is recommended. Do not drink alcohol or take recreational drugs before your treatment. You may resume normal activities after acupuncture treatment. You may feel more relaxed or tired than usual as a result from the therapy. Avoid heavy meals and alcohol directly after treatment.

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Risks & Side Effects

There are various therapies within Traditional Chinese medicine, each with their own list of risks and side effects.

Herbal medicines are often marketed as dietary supplements which are not under the same regulations as prescription or over-the-counter drugs. As dietary supplements they do not have to prove claims to be valid.

The FDA does regulate acupuncture needles as medical devices, and requires that they be sterile, nontoxic and labeled for single use by qualified practitioners only. Serious adverse effects have been reported from non-sterile needles or improper delivery of acupuncture treatments.


Birdee GS, Wayne PM, Davis RB, et al. T’ai chi and qigong for health: patterns of use in the United States. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2009;15(9):969–973.

Chan E, Tan M, Xin J, et al. Interactions between traditional Chinese medicines and Western therapeutics. Current Opinion in Drug Discovery & Development. 2010;13(1):50–65.