Wednesday, January 17, 2007


A nice reader read Monday's post about all of my various knots and pains and suggested cupping.

That's where the acupuncturist uses fire inside little glass jars to create suction in an affected area; he leaves the jars on for awhile so they can suck out the toxins. You may recall that in 2004 ashtangi Gwyneth Paltrow appeared at a movie premiere in a backless dress with blotchy red cupping hickeys on her back.

Yet I'd forgotten about cuppng.

Maybe I blocked it out.

My acupuncturist used that technique to help cure my swollen patella, which I had FOR NINE MONTHS in 2002-2003 -- despite teatment via diet and vitamins and chiros and ultrasound and MD's and a manual medicine practitioner who gave me many exercises to do (at the same time I had a pulled hamstring and wrist and shoulder problems, which he was able to cure).*

I even went to one of the city's top knee surgeons, who took pity and drained it for free and gave me sample meds because of my insurance was so bad; the thing swelled back up the very next day.

Imagine -- nine months with minimal biking and yoga. ACK! I could barely bend the knee and of course there was pain. I used to wear giant volleyball kneepads while teaching so I didn't bump it. My friend MariKay and I eventually deveoped knee-friendly variations of primary series poses so I could still practice ashtanga. We call it Patella Yoga (c). Backbends were pretty much out of the question, though.

The surgeon gave up when the draining failed. He told me some of the Chicago Bears had had the same problem and did nothing and it eventually went away on its own -- and that's what I should do, too. At that point I actually considered and then discarded the idea of taking up tackle football.

Although the surgeon said to do nothing, I thought I'd try acupuncture as a last resort. I got a recommendation from my editor.

The Chinese acupuncturist was in his late 60's or 70's and wanted cash only. He worked out of a tiny dusty storefront in Andersonville. His English was adequate but minimal; he smiled and laughed often. He made me buy my own cupping jars, needles and special medicated bandages that smelled like mint, pepper and earth. I had to remember to bring them with me to each appointment.

His treatment included fire, needles and electrodes, and lasted about 45 minutes. His wife would bring his lunch in the middle of it, and they'd eat it in the other room while the radio played Chinese talk shows at full volume. Meanwhile I was prone on the table with live electrodes hooked to the needles in my knee. It actually felt kind of good, and knowing they were next door eating was comforting. Also it was nice to be still and do nothing.

With his help some pressure was relieved and I gained some mobility. After treatment I'd walk across the street to the chocolate shop and order a bonbon or two while moving the bandages to examine the bright red hickeys on my right knee. Then I'd bend it to test for swelling and mobility.

It helped a lot; I could move it without pain. Plus the silver dollar-size bruise-hickeys looked cool. But it didn't disappear completely until a couple of months later, when Judith Lasater diagnosed it and gave me some Egoscue exercises to do.

I think the acupuncturist has since retired. He always always keen to move to the suburbs and I'm pretty sure that's exactly what he did.


*The ashtanga primary series, or Yoga Chikitsa ("yoga therapy") is meant to re-align and detoxify the body. Perhaps just not my particular body).


  1. Anonymous4:56 AM

    Hi Cara,

    in the "old" country, cupping was used for all illnesses’. Even in Chicago, my parents have a cupping set. The way it’s done is to rub some grain alcohol inside the “banka” light it on fire and stick it on the affected body part (usually the back).
    So, next time you want some “silver dollar-size bruise-hickeys” call them.

    Bob K.