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In Traditional Chinese Medicine, what is Coining?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Cao gio is a technique incorporated into the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It is pronounced as gow yaw and better known in English as coining. Coining is widely practiced in particular by Southeast Asians, such as the Vietnamese, Thai, and Lao. Because coining leaves distinct physical marks, patients are sometimes incorrectly identified as victims of abuse. Due to concerns about abuse in many Western nations, this has led to unfortunate cultural confusions at times.

Coining begins with a massage using a warm oil that is mixed with warming essential oils. Common essential oil choices include peppermint, cinnamon, orange, wintergreen, eucalyptus, or menthol oil. Some practitioners use Tiger Balm or another warming ointment. The goal of the oil is to irritate the skin slightly, warming it for the next stage of the process. The massage also relaxes the patient, bringing him or her into a state of centered stillness so that the next segment of the treatment will be more effective.

The coining treatment continues as a coin is repeatedly rubbed against an area of the skin in long flowing moves which always move away from the heart. Blood begins to rise to the surface of the skin, and will leave a mark that resembles a bruise or love bite. The areas of the body that are most frequently treated are the back and ribs, and the marks will fade a few days after the treatment is over.

Like other practices in TCM, coining is designed to bring balance to the body. Cao gio can be literally translated as “catch the wind,” and it is designed to draw off and release excess wind in the body. Wind illness, as it is called, is believed to contribute to fevers, muscle aches, low energy, and chills. If the imbalance is mild, it is believed that the marks left after coining will be very light, while if the patient had a large excess of wind, the marks will be livid and dark.

By drawing off the bad wind, coining allows the patient's body to find a natural balance between yin and yang, resulting in a health improvement. Coining is one among many physical treatments including massage and acupuncture which is designed to balance these two opposing forces in order to eliminate illness and discomfort. The effectiveness of coining is under debate in the Western world, although most doctors agree that the massage and warming oils, at least, probably help with muscle aches and pains.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon263694 — On Apr 25, 2012

I'm cambodian and my family still practices coining. I'm not a doctor or anything, but I believe it's an equivalent of acupuncture, pulling blood and oxygen to certain aches and pain to the body.

It always works for me, since I recover in about a day. It will leave marks for a few days though. My niece whose family is more american says she rather get coined, than have the flu/cold for a few days.

By anon165640 — On Apr 05, 2011

I grew up familiar with coining as my family is originally from Vietnam. It seemed to almost always work in speeding up the recovery from upper respiratory infections and the common flu.

I am now a physician with three board certifications and am still a strong believer in coining as I still use it whenever I sense a flu or cold coming on. I still can't explain how it works but somehow it does in most cases. Don't expect a cure, just a remedy to help speed the recovery of minor ailments (common colds, viral flu, etc.)

By anon139198 — On Jan 04, 2011

I love a good coining. I am vietnamese and grew up with it. The scraping does not need to be hard. You only need to go over it more times in the same place. I enjoy it so much that I try to trick my mother to do it for me.

And you should not do that if there is no color or rather bruising, you are not really sick or rather the wind is not in you. I know this because my mother yells at me when she discovers that I am not sick. You should follow it up with some tiger balm.

When the body is sick, your body sends blood to those areas that need it and there is just intense wind there. Usually when you have a cold it's around the chest area. My ex BF had a stomach virus and the redness was on his lower back rather than his upper back. Hope this helps.

By FrameMaker — On Dec 14, 2010

@ anon113694- I have always wanted to try coining. I have heard it is an intense massage. I have had cupping done though. This is equally as intense and can actually be a bit overwhelming after the first treatment. Essentially, the treatment begins with a massage and warm towels. After you are loosened up and relaxed, suction cups are placed on the back, thighs, calf, and shoulders. I watched my fiancée get the treatment and almost an inch or two of flesh was sucked into the cups. The cups are slid across the affected area, effectively pulling the skin up and down your body.

They say the darker the bruising, the more toxins that are released form your body. The marks are a little gross looking, but they fade after a few days. The pain and marks are worth it though because you walk away feeling rejuvenated and energized.

By GiraffeEars — On Dec 13, 2010

@ Anon113694- I have had coining done by my acupuncturist in Vermont and it was great. The pain of the treatment is only temporary, but it is very therapeutic, and the rush of endorphins/adrenaline/whatever is very intense. My doctor did not use a coin though. He used a specially shaped hard wood 'spoon' for lack of a better word. It had a smooth rounded edge similar to a coin, and he used it to dig deep into my back. The marks went away after about five days, but the effects stayed with me for much longer.

By anon113694 — On Sep 25, 2010

i actually tried coining a couple days ago and it worked! I had a terrible migraine that imitrex couldn't stop and it went on for days, until finally i gave it a try and boy, do you feel the results quick. I felt pressure being released from my body and the migraine was slowly going away and became just a regular headaches within an hour. There was some pain but it was worth it.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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