Cupping Therapy, What is it?

And why should I try it?

Cupping Therapy has become quite a popular treatment lately.  If you watched any of the swimming events during the recent Olympic games, you probably noticed the dark red circles Michael Phelps was sporting.

While it may have just grabbed the attention of the general public, cupping has been around for quite some time. Ebers Papyrus, which is one of the oldest medical textbooks, describes how Egyptians used cupping therapy in 1550B.C.  There have been accounts of Hippocrates using cupping, however it is most widely known as a traditional Chinese medicine.

In Eastern medicine, it is used to remove stagnation and stimulate the flow of chi. Cupping is often paired with other treatments such as acupuncture and acupressure. They also have been known to use cupping during surgery to help keep blood flow from the surgical site.

In Arabic culture, it is called hijama therapy and there have been accounts of it being used as long as almost 5,000 years ago.

Cupping devices used to be made out of animal horns, bamboo or clay. It was used to treat snake bites, skin lesions, and boils. Therapy cups today are made out of glass, bamboo, earthenware or silicone. Glass and silicone cups are the two more popular types being used.

So what exactly is cupping?

“Where there is stagnation, there will be pain. Remove the stagnation, and you remove the pain.”  

This is how cupping is viewed in Asian culture. They believe pain is from the congestion, stagnation or blockage of chi.  Cupping is a way to break up the blockage and revive the body’s natural flow of energy.

The basic idea consists of placing the cups directly on your skin and warming the air to create a vacuum. This draws the blood to the surface of the skin, which stretches and opens your muscle tissue. This will increase blood flow, loosen fascia, and stimulate healing. It can be compared to the way deep tissue massage breaks up scar tissue and reduces pain.

Cupping will usually cause bruising and some mild soreness depending on how much suction is created and the reason for the cupping therapy.

There are different types, wet and dry, fixed and moving which is also known as dynamic or  massage cupping.

Dry cupping uses heat to create suction, as the cup cools it creates the suction that pulls the skin into the cup. There are also cups that use a rubber pump to create the suction. This creates a small amount of pressure so dry cupping is good for use on softer tissues so the seal will be tight and secure. Dry cups are set in place for about 5-10 minutes before being removed. This will leave redness or bruising and some swelling. It is a painless procedure, at most people feel a slight pinching feeling.

Wet cupping starts out the same way as dry cupping. After 3-5 minutes, the cups are removed and your therapist makes tiny cuts on the raised area.  The theory behind this is to help drain toxic blood and fluids, and is believed to treat and prevent illness. Another cup is put over the are to suck up the blood.  The cuts are treated with antiseptic ointment and bandaged to help with the healing process. Obviously this type of cupping can cause some mild pain because the skin is cut. Many therapists will put a local anesthesia on before wet cupping to reduce any pain.

Fixed, or stagnant cupping is when the cups are placed on the skin and left there during the treatment.

Dynamic, massage or moving cupping is when there is oil or cream on the skin before the cups are placed. They are then slid around the area of the body being treated, this is most usually used on the back. This technique can only be used with dry cupping.

Ok, now why should you try cupping?

There are many benefits as a result of cupping therapy.  

  • Promotes blood flow
  • Increases blood circulation to muscles and tissue
  • Supplies oxygen to cells
  • Loosens knots
  • Release and drain excess fluids and toxins
  • Pain relief
  • Relieves muscle spasms
  • Improve metabolism
  • Aids digestion
  • Alternative method of treating acne
  • Improves muscle function
  • Helps with Herpes virus
  • Treats facial paralysis
  • Clears congestion from the lungs
  • Can help with asthma
  • Vertigo
  • Anxiety

After a cupping treatment, it’s common to find bruises or redness in the area that was treated. This is because of the blood being brought to the surface of the skin through the suction of the cups.  There are those believe that the stronger and more noticeable the marks left behind are, the more toxins there are in your body. Fewer toxins will produce much fainter marks. As for how long the marks last, it depends on the type of cupping and the individual. However they usually only last between a few days to a week or so.

Obviously this is not a treatment for everyone, while cupping is considered safe for most people, there are some conditions where it’s unadvised.  Any type of blood disorder, severe diseases, such as cardiac, or renal issues. Cupping should never be done on an area that is swollen, or where a hernia has been.

Pregnant woman should always check with their Dr. before trying cupping. There are areas of the body that should be avoided if you are pregnant and decide to try cupping.

Anyone getting treated for cancer, have broken bones, sunburn, dehydration or fever should stay away from cupping.

Cupping therapy has a similar effect as a deep tissue massage, but it can be less painful because of the negative pressure. You may feel a little sore a few days after a treatment, as though you had worked out.

Always be open with your therapist and let them know if you experience any discomfort during a cupping session.


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