I thought I’d discuss a recent case involving scoliosis, because it relates to one of the uncommon benefits of cupping: extracting cold. Cupping is generally known to be good for stagnation. Below, I’ll discuss a bit about Chinese medicine disease types treated with cupping, then discuss the forgotten pathology of cold before explaining through some pictures how cupping can be used as a diagnostic measure. I’ll finish by returning to some aspects of the scoliosis case.
Chinese Medical Diagnostic Categories: Natural Metaphors
Chinese Medical diagnostic categories use natural metaphors that are difficult to understand from our perspective. At best they can be considered quaint. A less generous take is that they are useless superstition. As a point of fact, before the ascendance of modern biomedical discourses outfitted with the language of genes and germs, a similar naturalistic language was also applied here (the non-Chinese universe). Terms like “bilious,” “splenitive,” and “phlegmatic” come from a naturalistic conception of health and the relationship of to the organs to disease including those of the psyche.
We don’t want to get sidetracked. These allusions are just to demonstrate that Chinese medicine is not special with regard to the use of natural metaphors to describe the human condition. What is necessary is that these natural terms be translated into ways that we can better understand them.
- Stagnation— This is the least foreign of concepts. It refers to thick blood. It is a symptomatic designation. Often referred to as “blockage,” stagnation does not indicate how thick blood has come about. It only indicates that it is there. Cupping marks are the sign of stagnation, but where and how marks appear requires more deduction.
- Heat— This can be a principle cause of stagnation. This refers to inflammatory processes than can arise from basic metabolic processes including exercise, or from things like allergies, emotional stress, or environmental factors. Heat robs the body of vital fluids which in turn causes the blood to thicken, tissues to become less lubricated, and lead to imbalance within the organs. Heat is one of the most common causes for the marks you see from cupping.
- Dampness/Phlegm— This refers to fluid metabolism problems. Like stagnation, dampness is an effect, but it can also cause stagnation. Fluid metabolism refers to how the body makes use of the fluids it takes in from food and other liquids. It also refers to how those fluids move about the body. I’ll address this internal factor in another blog. Dampness can also lodge in the muscles due to environmental factors. Addressing this is one of the most common applications for cupping.
- Cold— This arises from an underlying metabolic deficiency usually associated with the kidneys. It can also be cause by the environment or eating excessively cold and raw food. Cold can also affect fluid metabolism. This is commonly seen in the case of cankles and sinus disorders. For this pathology the navel can be cupped, but cold can be extracted on the back as well.
Let’s look at some cold cupping pictures:
Here is the picture of a back that looks to be about a couple days after cupping. We see that the colors on the upper right side are most intense, indicating a greater measure of stagnation than in other parts of the body. In the midback there is relatively little stagnation. Let’s look at another.
Here we have a case of marginal heat, particularly in the lower back, heart stagnation, and dampness in the middle. This shot was taken right aftter cupping, as the ring marks around the hickeys are pronounced. This person probably does not have a diagnosed heart condition, but we know it my be begining because the cup shows it. The heart resides exactly where the upper left cup mark is dark. That is blood that is not circulating well around the heart. It could be from emotional stress. If you look closely on the center right, there appears to be beeds of sweat. That’s dampness, likely digestive imbalance. Of course there are lower back issues, which likely brought him in. This may actually relate to some metabolic issues with the kidney. Let’s look at another more related to cold:
Notice the palor of the cup effect. This is a clear case of cold, blood deficiency, or a combination of the two. The upper left and lower right are the most red spots, heat, but the overwhelming sign is of either really good health, insufficient blood to nourish the tissue, or cold. The way cold is diagnosed is when the cups are removed. Strangely enough, the inside of the cup and the cupping site will feel very cold, as if refridgerated.
This is another freshly cupped person who seems to be ice cold. But for the lowest left spot and the left should all of the marks are empty, so to speak. The depth the ring marks shows that this person has been cupped with quite a bit of gusto. The marks on the right should show considerable stagnation, but they are marks of a dusky gray nature; they are pastel as opposed to being crimson or vivid black/purple. This cold. Let’s just take one look at hot without comment.
Wanna guess what her complaint is? Let’s not dally, we’ve learned of the utility of cupping diagnostically as far as the terms discussed earlier are concerned and hopefully provided clear examples. Now let’s look at the scoliosis cased introduced at the outset.
Griselda came to me complaining of a head problem manifest particularly during flights and a head range of motion issue dealing with her neck. She is in her upper 70s and primarily vegetarian. She reported liking to take very hot showers in the morning, which made the pain more bearable. She is a strong-willed and bright woman who appreciates the value of Chinese medicine but finds “the yin-yang stuff” an insult to her intelligence.
For purposes of illustrating matters related to cold cupping, details of the case shall be abreviated. Suffice it to say that all patients are diagnosed in terms of the palpatory methods of Japanese acupuncture. These include blood stagnation, adrenal function, nervous and immune systems, neck, thyroid, sugar imbalance, and facial infection zones… to name a few. Upon examination Griselda showed fluid metabolism imbalance and scoliosis, which could be deduced as primary factors affecting her chief complaints.
Although Griselda showed very promising results very early in the course of treatment, by the sixth session I wanted to begin to address the scoliosis itself, as it seemed implausible that her treatments could hold long term without rectifying this core problem. Thus she was given an extensive back treatment using finger acupuncture, essential oils, and cups. Each cup rested at a site between 8-11 minutes. No marks were evident upon removal. However, each cup and cup site possessed a great deal of cold. These findings reminded me of her love for hot showers.
Griselda had already commented that after a few treatments that her circulation had improved, because she no longer felt cold. However, the cupping results indicated that cold was still present. Cups literally remove cold through the skin, whereas acupuncture treats though activating metabolic processes that endeavor to transform and remove it primarily through excretion. Acupuncture clearly has its limitations, which is why there are a range of treatments within Chinese medicine.
The two sessions after her cupping treatment proved interesting, because she became much more aware of the presence of phlegm. It is reasonable to conclude that the stagnation that cold was causing had been released to the extent where phlegm could flow more easily. This is the stage where dietary and herbal interventions become ideal. Instead of being an end in itself, cupping in this case just brought us to another stage where other interventions were more appropriate.
Cupping is a therapy that treats a range of diseases by Chinese medical measures. It has as much diagnosic value as it has therapeutic value. Pictures illustrated how this process occurs. Cold is an overlooked disease which can cause stagnation. The case of Griselda showed how cupping findings corroborates patient subjective experience, while demonstrating that cupping is not necessarily a means unto itself but rather a stage of treatment.