What Is Cupping?
Cupping is an ancient therapy used in China and the Middle East for 2,000 years. Dry cupping is a noninvasive procedure that is often coupled with acupuncture , another form of traditional Chinese medicine.
Cups used in cupping were historically made of bamboo or clay. Nowadays, plastic and glass are often used. The physical mechanism of cupping involves suction. This suction is created either using a flame or suction valve. (Don’t worry, the flame isn’t applied to your skin. The air inside the cup is burned off using the flame, and the cup is then immediately applied to the surface of the body.) Various cups have been created that can be applied to not only smooth parts of your body but also contoured surfaces.
Two main types of cupping exist- dry cupping and wet cupping (AKA hijama).
Dry cupping is completely noninvasive and uses suction to professedly increase blood circulation, loosen tissue, and relax the nervous system (which is why cupping is used to treat hypertension). Wet cupping is like dry cupping but takes the whole process a step further: Small incisions are made to the cupped area in order to bleed it.
Wet cupping should be performed in a sterile environment with sterile instruments.
In the hands of a skilled practitioner, cups can be used in various ways. Here are some iterations of cupping therapy:
- cupping with retention (keeping the cups on for an extra-long 10 to 15 minutes)
- quick cupping (removing the cups quickly once the skin is sucked into the cup)
- shaking cupping (gently lifting the retained cups over acupuncture or other skin areas)
- moving cupping (sliding lubricated cups over the skin or acupuncture points)
- balance cupping (a mix of the above cupping subtypes)
Why Do People Try Cupping?
Cupping is typically used to relieve muscle pain and soreness, inflammation, and to speed recovery from various ailments.
In the last five to 10 years, the practice of cupping has become popular in sports therapy for sore muscles and stiff joints.
Athletes like Michael Phelps have had the procedure done before performing in the Rio Olympics.
In traditional Chinese medicine, cupping is said to stimulate the flow of vital energy (also known as “qi” or “chi”) and help correct any imbalances arising from illness or injury. It is sometimes combined with acupuncture and tuina, which are other methods used to stimulate acupuncture points.
What Happens During a Cupping Treatment?
During a cupping treatment, the practitioner may place a flammable substance (such as herbs or alcohol) inside a cup, and then ignite that substance. When the flame goes out, the practitioner quickly places the cup upside-down on the body over certain qi pathways linked to the condition being treated.
Alternatively, cupping can also be done using a mechanical or electrical vacuum pump. The cup is placed on the skin and the pump is used to create the suction.
The cups are usually left in place for five to ten minutes, during which time blood vessels expand and increase circulation.
Cupping is also thought to open up the skin’s pores and promote detoxification.
In a procedure known as “wet cupping,” the skin is punctured prior to treatment. This causes blood to flow out of the punctures during the cupping procedure, which is thought to clear toxins from the body.
How Does Cupping Work?
There are various explanations for why cupping works. In my estimation, each explanation is merely a conjecture unproven by science and limited in scope. For example, one theory explains that the negative pressure created by cups stretches muscle and nerve fibers thus increasing blood circulation. However, this explanation doesn’t cover why cupping is perceived useful in treating cellulitis and migraines.
Another theory has it that injury caused by cupping trips pain inhibitors in dorsal horn cells at the level of the spinal cord. However, this explanation doesn’t explain why cupping is useful in conditions that are usually painless like hypertension.
A third theory ties the therapeutic effect of cupping to acupoints or acupuncture points. (Cupping can be applied either to acupuncture points or localized areas of injury.) Finally, some theorize that wet cupping works by facilitating excretion of tainted blood and tissue fluids.
Possible Side Effects
Cupping may result in cause pain, swelling, and/or burns in some cases. Cupping also leaves round purple marks or circular bruises on the skin; these marks may begin to fade after several days but can remain for two to three weeks.
Cupping shouldn’t be done on areas where the skin is broken, irritated, or inflamed.
Although rare, other reported adverse effects include blisters, acquired hemophilia A, thrombocytopenia, iron deficiency anemia, kelloids, panniculitis, and skin pigmentation.
Does Cupping Pass the Scientific Smell Test?
In recent years, there have been some systematic reviews which scour the literature for evidence that cupping works and whether it poses a risk for adverse effects. As mentioned above, however, randomized control trials (gold-standard experiments) are few and limited by power (low sample size or number of participants) and bias.
In an oft-cited 2013 systematic review published in PLOS ONE, Chinese and Australian researchers found that despite limitations in research design, cupping may help with various diseases or conditions including herpes zoster, acne, facial paralysis (Bell’s palsy), and cervical spondylosis. Moreover, a meta-analysis performed by researchers suggested that cupping worked best when combined with other modalities including acupuncture and Western medications. Of particular note, researchers found that both wet and dry cupping were safe with no risk of adverse effects other than painless bruising which typically resolves in about a week.
Another 2013 review article published in the journal Acupuncture Medicine, examined cupping as therapy for lower back pain. Researchers found that cupping may be useful in providing pain control and improved quality of life.
Who shouldn’t perform Cupping Therapy?
- Not Recommended for Individuals who have a bleeding disorder or are on blood thinner medications or bruise easily
- Not Recommended for Individuals who have experienced a stroke or have a history of blood clot formation or aneurysm
- Not Recommended for use on open wounds, sores, blemishes, irritated skin or rashes
- Home Use not recommended for Cancer Patients and should only see a professionally trained Cupping Therapist if Cancer or Chemo. Cupping is a tremendous Lymph mover and could spread active cancer. 2/3 of Chemo remains in the tissue and can be released with cupping treatments resulting in the individual having similar affects as after taking Chemo. Professionally Trained Cupping Therapists have been taught this and should be knowledgeable about how to perform cupping minimally to release these Chemo Toxins without severe side effects.
- Home Use not recommended on tissue related to poisonous bites new or old. As with cancer, approx 2/3 of the poison remains in the tissue and can be released with same side effects as the
- Not recommended for Individuals with Cardiac Failure, Renal Failure, Ascites, Severe Edema
- Do Not Cup over Hernias, Broken Bones, Slipped Disks, Sunburn, ruptured, ulcerated or inflamed skin, Psoriasis, Eczema or Rosacia
- Do not cup if experiencing a Fever or Dehydration
- Cupping Not Recommended for Pregnant Women in the 1st Trimester and should check with Physician before starting cupping. Only light suction should be used after Physician has approved.
- Diabetics should only use lighter suction due to compromised circulation.
- If unsure if you should perform cupping, please check with your Physician prior to cupping.
DO NOT CUP ON OR OVER ARTERIES
Arteries carry oxygenated blood throughout your body and cannot be impeded or occluded. Very important that you take note of the areas you want to cup and ensure that you avoid the arteries.
In some areas, the arteries are deeper and are not as worrisome, but in the following areas, the arteries are superficial or closer to the skin and must be avoided as you would occlude the artery if cupped.
- Common Carotid (Front/Side of Neck)
- Brachial Plexus (Bend of the Elbow)
- Femoral Artery ( In the Groin Area or the inside fold of each leg at the pelvis)
- The back side of the knee at the bend
- Abdominal Aortic Artery
Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.