Adjunctive Therapies

At the VTAA's 2016 Annual Meeting the Membership voted and passed the following motion:

“The Vermont Acupuncture Association (VTAA) supports the use of Acu Detox for behavioral health in mental health systems to match the National Acupuncture Detoxification 
Association's (NADA) mission, and by licensed counselors in private practice, who are regulated by The Vermont Office of Professional Regulation (OPR).”




Acupuncture works because the needle sort of “wakes up” the qi and stimulates it to do something different. For most of history, the only way to make sure the needle was doing its stimulating job was by manually twirling or scraping or otherwise manipulating the needle until the patient reported the arrival of the qi sensation. One way around this manual stimulation is the application of electrical currents that constantly stimulate the needle.

The needles are attached by clips and wires to small battery-powered boxes that deliver a rhythmic stimulation to the needle. The sensation is similar to a gentle tapping by raindrops, and is very relaxing and soothing. This adaption to acupuncture is called electroacupuncture.

A much more recent technological addition to point stimulation is one that uses laser pointers to stimulate the points, bypassing the needle process altogether. This form of acupuncture is quite new, and only a few practitioners are currently trained in it.


Moxibustion is a word that means the combustion of moxa (a Japanese word for the herb used in this therapy). Moxa is the dried, fluffy leaf of the mugwort plant, which is in the artemesia family, and gives a distinctive pleasant odor when it’s burned. It’s occasionally mixed with other dried herbs for therapeutic reasons. If you’ve never seen mugwort itself, you’ve certainly seen some of its’ many cousins, which are common in gardens across New England.

Moxa is believed to have healing properties that help tonify and warm the qi and organs in the body. There are many ways to apply moxa during a treatment, and sometimes, especially in pediatrics, moxa may even be used alone. In the Chinese medical classics, it’s said that the daily burning of moxa on the acupuncture point called Stomach 36 will cause one to live a long life. Modern research has shown that the white blood cell count is slightly elevated by burning moxa on this point.

Moxa is often formed into small balls that are attached to the handle of a needle already inserted into an acupuncture point, and then lit on fire. As the moxa smolders, heat is transferred down the needle into the acupuncture point, creating a wonderful sensation of deep heat. Several balls might be burned on a needle during the course of a treatment. Alternatively, a moxa stick, which is a paper tube containing the moxa or possibly a charcoalized stick of moxa resembling a cigar, might be lit and held near an acupuncture point to warm the point more superficially. There are also brass moxa burners that hold smoldering moxa and are drawn over a section of the body to warm a large area.

In some treatments, the moxa is formed into small pyramids and then placed on a slice of ginger, a slice of garlic, or a mound of salt that has been poured into the navel. The garlic and ginger also have healing properties (the salt acts as an insulator), and a series of cones would be burned on these substances to transfer the moxa-plus properties to the acupuncture point.

Finally, there is a Japanese technique that uses tiny rice-grain-size rolled bits of very fine moxa set upright on a smear of ointment (to protect the skin) and then lit. This technique creates a momentary sharp sensation of heat, and is often used to treat stiff arthritic joints or scar tissue that’s keeping a joint from functioning properly.

Diet Therapy

Your Oriental Medicine practitioner may ask you to refrain from eating certain foods or types of foods, or to eat particular foods, as part of your treatment. Food is appreciated as medicine, in fact maybe even a superior form of medicine. Also, some foods may counteract certain herbs that have been prescribed for you.

To get the most out of your herbal medicines and your treatments, you will want to pay attention to the dietary restrictions and advice your practitioner gives you during the time you’re being treated. For example, if your diagnosis is damp heat, you will only be adding to it if you eat greasy fried foods. If this is a chronic condition, it may even have been brought on by a diet that indulges too frequently in these foods. To not follow the dietary suggestions or restrictions is to lengthen the time you will spend in treatment and possibly make a good outcome impossible or incomplete.

Certain foods or types of foods can also speed your recovery. If you have digestive issues from cold in the stomach and qi deficiency, for example, you may be asked to skip the cold breakfast cereals and instead eat broth with rice cooked with ginger for breakfast. Such a breakfast will help to warm the stomach and tonify the qi, while a typical breakfast of cold cereal and juice will simply worsen the condition for which you’re being treated.

Oriental Bodywork

Bodywork is an important element of Oriental Medicine, serving to manually move the qi and blood away from stagnant and painful areas. There are many different styles and forms. Tuina is the most commonly encountered method from China. It is translated literally as pushing and pulling, and is most often applied as an adjunct to needling in traumatic injuries or areas of chronic pain. Shiatsu and ammo are two Japanese styles that are commonly practiced. Thai massage also has quite an excellent reputation. Some of these methods require the patient to lie directly on the floor while the practitioner kneads and plies the body with hands and feet. Quite different from western massage, the hand movements are often rapid and joints are manipulated just as much as muscles.

Acupressure is practiced by many massage therapists, regardless of the degree of study in Oriental Medicine. It simply means the use of finger pressure on the acupuncture points for a more mild stimulation than what the needles give.

Two techniques that are often used in addition to pressing and pulling are cupping and gua sha. Cupping uses round glass or plastic jars with either a heat source or pump to create a suction that draws stagnant blood and fluids to the skin surface. The cups are sometimes used in conjunction with needles, sometimes alone, and sometimes left in one spot, other times pulled along the length of a muscle. The treatment isn’t painful, but does result in a non-painful bruise or rash that disappears in a few days. If you saw the photo of actress Gwyneth Paltrow that was published in many newspapers after her cupping therapy, you’ve seen what the bruises look like. Cupping is used to treat many different kinds of problems.

Gua sha is a similar therapy that uses the rounded edge of a spoon, coin, or bone tool to raise a slight friction rash to draw stagnant blood and fluids (the “sha”) to the skin surface. Performed on large muscles to treat many kinds of ailments, a thin layer of lubricating paste is rubbed on the skin, then a gentle scraping motion is used over the lubricant until the sha rises to the surface. Like cupping bruises, the rash will disappear over the course of several days.

There are also many forms of non-pressing, and sometimes even non-touching, bodywork practiced under the umbrella of Oriental Medicine. Medical qigong and reiki are two commonly encountered ‘healing touch’ styles that are used to manipulate and balance some of the more subtle elements of circulation such as qi and spirit.

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