What About Cupping?
Many people became curious about cupping therapy after seeing the red round marks on Olympic athletes like Michael Phelps during the summer Olympics.
Cupping is essentially a form of bodywork or therapy that uses suction from the cups to achieve the desired results. This treatment is employed to stimulate blood flow, relieve pain, and provide many other health-promoting effects.
However, before going out and trying cupping therapy for yourself, it is a good idea to understand what it is, what it's used for, and the potential pitfalls.
What Is Cupping Therapy?
Cupping therapy involves placing a plastic cup on the skin and pumping air out of the space inside the cup. This process creates suction that breaks capillaries, the small blood vessels near the skin surface, and red (or purple) marks where the cup was. These were the circles seen on many athletes in the Olympics.
There are two types of cupping therapy: wet and dry. The dry treatment uses the action of the suction cup alone. Wet cupping is more commonly practiced in Persian medicine, Hijama, and involves bloodletting inside the suction cup. We practice dry cupping at Gulf Coast Acupuncture and Fertility for hygienic purposes.
Dry cupping can be performed in two ways: static cupping, which is done in one area, or moving the cup around to several places. This process favors a traditional massage but with suction instead of pressure.
Cupping therapy is not new! Historical records document cupping use in Chinese medicine over 3,000 years ago. Other records indicate that the ancient Egyptians and Greeks practiced it. Hippocrates, known as the father of medicine, used it. Nowadays, cupping is practiced as traditional Asian (Chinese, Korean, and Japanese) and Persian medicine.
Interestingly, the Chinese and the Egyptians both discovered cupping independently thousands of years ago. When the same healing tool is found in opposite parts of the world (before there was the internet, mind you) and the tool is still practiced thousands of years later, it is a testament to its benefits.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) historically placed cups on specific acupuncture points to stimulate the points. For example, someone with allergies and colds would be thought to have stagnation of the lungs. In these cases, a cup is placed on an acupuncture point for the lungs and will often turn into the darkest color of bruises even though all the cups were placed on the skin with the same negative pressure. TCM practitioners consider the darker spots from the treatment indicate stagnation is released.
Before there were plastic suction cups, practitioners used glass cups and flame (fire cupping). They burned cotton inside the cup, removing oxygen from the air, causing negative air pressure, and creating suction. The practitioner immediately put the cup on the skin, and the skin quickly responded by being drawn into the cup.
Modern Use of Cupping
While cupping is used in TCM for overall health, conventional physiotherapists use it too. Modern biomedical literature lists cupping as a pain-relief tool or as a tool for myofascial release. Many massage techniques involve manipulating blood to flow into the muscles to release trigger points and flush out inflammation. Similarly, cupping therapy can do the same for body areas with less fat tissue, such as the back and shoulders.
In a review article in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, Rozenfeld and Kalichman (both academic physiotherapists) described the physiological effects of cupping:
Mechanically, cupping increases blood circulation, whereas physiologically, it activates the immune system and stimulates the mechanosensitive fibers, thus reducing pain.
Sometimes a musculoskeletal issue that is stagnant in its healing process can be stimulated into healing by slightly irritating the tissue or initiating some inflammation. This concept applies to prolotherapy, where a foreign substance (usually dextrose) is injected into an injured joint to stimulate inflammation. Similarly, because cupping creates localized inflammation, it can affect a stagnant injury and stimulate blood and lymph flow to that area.
The picture shown above shows the potential colors left on the skin after a cupping session; these can often take several days or a week or more to fade.
Cupping is just one of the treatments we offer at Gulf Coast Acupuncture and Fertility.
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