A Southeast Asian dermabrasive therapy performed by rubbing the skin with a coin. Also known as coining. Cao gío is a Vietnamese term that means “catch the wind” or “rub away the wind.” The practice is believed to draw off and release the excess “wind” or heat energy that causes various illnesses such as colds, flu, fever, headache and muscle aches.

A mentholated balm like Tiger Balm or Vicks VapoRub is rubbed over the back, chest or shoulders, and the practitioner uses a coin to scrape the skin with short, one-direction movements until blood appears under the skin.

Coining leaves your back pleasantly hot and glowing. It can feel very nice if you are in the achy stage of a cold. Or it can also be painful, and so can the bruises it leaves.

A bigger problem with the bruises, though, is that teachers or pediatricians unfamiliar with this cultural practice may mistake them for signs of child abuse. In some cases children have been taken from their families (for example, ten children in Omaha, 2002). Thankfully, most communities with significant Vietnamese, Cambodian or Hmong populations have educated their police and child services about the practice (Olson).

Coining hasn’t been clinically shown to be effective, and has been linked by one study to “burns after application of heated oil and cerebral hemorrhage” (Rampini). So you can well imagine that many physicians discourage or disparage coining – causing distrust and avoidance among their Southeast Asian patients. Thus, physicians are now being encouraged to be more tolerant of cao gio; despite the Rampini study, it is generally considered a harmless procedure (Nguyen). Additionally, and somewhat surprisingly, there are increasing numbers of American doctors who “believe coining is legitimate and have used it” (Olson).

If you’re going to try it, I recommend you ask a Southeast Asian person to do it for you so that you get the authentic experience. Enjoy!


Sources

Nguyen, Nhung, PharmD and Louis E. Achusim, PharmD, MS. “Medication Adherence in an Immigrant Population: Vietnamese Americans.” Drug Benefit Trends 2002; 14(4):34-35, 39-48.

Olson, Jeremy. “Asian remedy raises few alarms elsewhere.” Omaha World-Herald. May 3, 2002. SECTION: NEWS; Pg. 1a.

Rampini et al. “Camphor Intoxication After Cao Gío (Coin Rubbing).” JAMA 2002; 288: 45

A haunting, if not harrowing photo of the aftereffects of cao gio: http://www.pbase.com/image/41278744

And another one just for fun: http://ethnomed.org/ethnomed/clin_topics/dermatology/pigment35.html

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