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Cupping, Gua Sha, and Acupuncture: Can They Help with Arthritis and Chronic Pain?

Most of you know that I am a big fan of integrative medicine: a mix of natural or alternative methodologies and traditional pharmaceutical treatments.

In fact, one of the first “real” published articles I wrote was in a local magazine (called South Fayette & Neighbors, now known as IN South Fayette,) in 2006, and it was called “Away from the Mainstream: A Look at Complementary Health Practices.” (photos below.)

In it, I discuss acupuncture and naturopathic medicine in general, but particularly as a way for patients to help treat arthritis and fibromyalgia.


I first began acupuncture myself in 2008. I went steadily for almost a year. I would go 1-2x per week to Dr. Lisa Wang of Chinese Acupuncture and Wellness, and then, my health insurance stopped covering it. So then, I started going more sporadically, perhaps once or twice per year. I would mostly do acupuncture but occasionally would see her for cupping or Chinese herbs as well.
It just got too tough to go all of the time. Financially, it became a burden to keep up regular appointments. And with an unpredictable work schedule and unpredictable health symptoms, keeping weekly or monthly appointments became tough.

However, after my awful knee replacement experience, I decided to try again. I moved, so I’d have to find a closer facility. And, it wouldn’t be covered by insurance, but in my mind, I thought it would be worth the cost, even if it had potential to drain our health savings account.

I was right!

While I still do wish my health insurance company would pay at least a part of it, I nonetheless enjoy going each week.

I found a lovely place with a very nice owner/practitioner named Michelle. The establishment is called Wind in the Willows and if you live in Pittsburgh, I urge you to check it out.

I find acupuncture, cupping, and gua sha to be awesome. They are really helpful, especially in conjunction with my monthly 90-minute deep tissue massages from Andrew at Evolve Wellness & Massage, and my 1-3x per week physical therapy sessions at Robinson Physical Therapy and Health Center. Occasionally, I’ll schedule a reiki session at Evolve, a cryotherapy session at Cloud Cryotherapy, chiropractic work at Green Tree Chiropractic and Rehab, or sensory-deprivation/floating therapy at Levity Spa in Squirrel Hill. I also love the FasciaBlaster by Ashley Black, my Thermotex system, and I’m a big fan of Shakeology and essential oils. Exercise is great too. I recently bought a pass to the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden so I can take nice long walks in nature when I’m feeling well enough to do so. I’ve even done “mashing” and biofeedback.

But — aside from days like today where my body and/or schedule prevent me from keeping my appointment — I look forward to seeing Michelle weekly for my sessions.

I’m there for about an hour. Depending on which areas we need to work on, I will either lay face up or face down on a heated table.

32207237_2141920115824603_7930685454553186304_nFirst, she’ll insert the acupuncture needles. Some of them are placed in direct correspondence with the area that is hurting. Other needles are placed in a more roundabout way which *seems* sporadic, but never is. They correspond with the body’s qi (or chi) and trigger points. The qi goes along meridians, which are basically like channels of energy in the body. (Qi basically means “life force.”) So, for instance, a needle in your ear may treat anxiety, and a needle in your foot may correspond with your heart or liver. While I can’t explain how it all works, I do know that placement is key — and your acupuncturist will know best as to which needles go where.

To me, acupuncture feels good. Occasionally, I get one spot that’ll give me a little “zinger,” but when that happens, it’s usually corresponding to a problematic area that needs to be addressed the most that day. Sometimes, it feels so good when a needle is placed — like a release of energy — I sometimes even get goosebumps!

Once the needles are in, she’ll put a blanket and heat lamp on, with soft and meditative music playing in the background, an essential oils diffuser dispensing, and lights dimmed.

She’ll remove the needles after a while. Then, we typically move on to cupping. On my Arthritis Ashley Facebook page, I’ve had a lot of questions about the cupping and gua sha components of my acupuncture therapy, and so I’ll address them here.

First — it is my impression that cupping is safe, if done the right way by an experienced 31062177_2118200404863241_4407318718430838784_ntherapist or practitioner. You’ll want to go to someone who is certified in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine.) Sometimes they will use fire — don’t be alarmed. Fire cupping is normal. Sometimes, cups will remain placed where they are for 5 or 10 minutes. Other times, they move them around like a cupping massage. You will likely have some marks, and bruising, even perfectly-round circle bruises, but don’t be alarmed. These are very “surface-level” bruising, and not deep or worrisome hematomas. However, if you are super-concerned because you are on blood thinners, prone to clotting, or for any other reason, please consult your medical doctor first and also address your concerns with your TCM doctor or therapist before beginning cupping.

Let me be clear: sometimes there is discomfort with cupping. But for me personally, it is a “hurts-so-good” kind of sensation, the same way that my deep-tissue massages or foam rolling can be. I do have rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, of course, but I also have a mild form of dystonia which basically equates to chronic muscle spasms. So, I often really NEED my tight, tense, and knotty muscles to be stretched, worked on, and relaxed. Cupping helps with this. Michelle, who does my cupping, always tells me to let her know if it becomes too much. So if you have a good practitioner, I’m sure that they will want you to be comfortable and let them know if the pain becomes too much to bear.

Cupping is honestly one of my favorite therapies!

Gua sha is awesome, too. I just discovered it this year. It is essentially “muscle scraping.” Kind of a form of massage. I even bought a rose quartz gua sha kit for home use. You or whomever is doing you gua sha will apply some kind of oil or lotion first, and then use whatever tool of choice (maybe jade, maybe rose quarts, maybe a horn, etc.) to “scrape” the muscles and bring toxins to the surface of the skin. I don’t find gua sha (pronounced gwa-shah) to be at all uncomfortable for the most part, but, some people do.


Keep in mind that RA patients (and anyone living with any type of chronic pain) often have different levels of pain tolerance. My level of pain tolerance is very high, and so deep tissue massages, gua sha, and cupping do not really bother me all that much. In fact, I thoroughly enjoy all of the above, and I REALLY love acupuncture.

If I could afford to, I’d go MORE than once per week!

I have tried everything to manage my pain, and I am a big fan of natural and holistic remedies for RA and of self-care in general.


If you want to learn more about the history of acupuncture, click here.

If you want to learn more about cupping, click here.

For more info on gua sha, check this out.

Also, here is an article I wrote for Healthline about massage for RA.

If you want to see 10 Ways I Manage Bad Days with RA, click here.

Check out Wind in the Willows website, Facebook, or get a Groupon, here.

One thought on “Cupping, Gua Sha, and Acupuncture: Can They Help with Arthritis and Chronic Pain?

  1. I think the idea of acupuncture is wonderful, but I do not think I can do the cupping. I currently have two large bruises on my back that came about from surgery. My dermatologist asked if I was doing cupping. No just surgery I said. He advised I try cupping next time I want a good bruise, he remarked it is way less expensive than surgery. LOL

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