Cupping Therapy: What is It, How it Works, Benefits, and More
In so many aspects of life, what’s old is always new again, including in the world of health and wellness. Cupping therapy has received a lot of attention lately, and while it seem like it’s a new trend, it’s actually been around for a long, long time, but people have recently rediscovered the wealth of benefits it offers.
Perhaps you light weights, you are a swimmer, or you aren’t dedicated to a specific type of exercise, but you like to switch up your workout routine. Whatever the case may be, you may have noticed people at the gym, the pool, or perhaps in the Olympics or at weight lifting competitions covered in red circles on their shoulders and backs. No, those marks aren’t hickeys, but they’re the tell-tale marks of an age-old form of alternative medicine known as cupping therapy.
Wondering what cupping therapy is? How does it work? Interested in learning about cupping benefits? If you answered “yes” to these questions, keep on reading to learn more, and to determine whether or not cupping is something that you should explore.
What is Cupping Therapy?
Cupping therapy, often simply referred to as “cupping”, is an ancient form of alternative medicine that is believed to have originated in China. The practice involves placing cups on the surface of the skin to create suction, and it’s believed that the suction facilitates blood flow, which promotes healing.
Pictorial records of cupping therapy are found in the Ebers Papyrus, the Ancient Egyptian medical record that dates back to 1500 BC. Hieroglyphics in the ancient document, which is considered the first and oldest medical textbook, detail the use of cupping therapy as a treatment for a variety of ailments, including pain, vertigo, fever, and even to balance menstruation and to accelerate the healing process. The ancient Greeks also used cupping therapy. Hippocrates, the Father of Modern Medicine, was a strong advocate of cupping, and promoted its use as a remedy for an assortment of maladies. Other Greek physicians promoted cupping for back pain, as the strong suction helped to restore the alignment of the spine by minimizing the inward protrusion of dislocated vertebrae.
The first recorded use of cupping came from Ge Hong, the famous Taoist and herbalist, who lived from 281 to 341 AD, was the first to practice cupping. Advocates of this type of therapy believe that it facilitates the flow of “qi” (pronounced “chi”), or “life force”, throughout the body. A lot of Taoists claim that cupping therapy balances yin and yang, or negative and positive, within the body. It’s believed that restoring the balance of the extremes of yin and yang promotes overall health and well-being, as it helps to facilitate the body’s resistance to pathogens, improves blood flow, and minimizes pain. The use of cupping was expanded to use in surgical procedures in China, as a means of diverting the flow of blood from the site to be operated on.
In the 1950s, Chinese and Russian doctors and scientists conducted extensive studies to learn the effects of cupping therapy, and determined that the strong suction was, indeed, clinically effective and beneficial. Fast forward to today and cupping has become a highly popular form of alternative medicine.
How does Cupping Therapy Work?
Originally, the practice of cupping was performed with hollowed-out animal horns to treat boils and to withdraw snakebite and skin lesion toxins. Eventually, bamboo cups replaced animal horns, and eventually, cups were – and still are – made of several other types of materials, including glass, earthenware, and silicone.
Traditional cupping, which mimics the practice that is believed to have been used by the ancient Chinese, Egyptians, and Greeks, involves the following:
- A therapist will apply a flammable substance into a cup, such as herbs, alcohol, or paper, and set it on fire.
- The fire is extinguished
- The cups are placed upside-down onto the surface of the skin
Once the cups are placed onto the skin, the once heated air within the cups cools, creating a vacuum that causes the blood vessels to expand, raising and reddening the skin. The length of time the cups will be left on the skin varies; however, on average, they’re left in place for about 3 minutes.
A modern version of cupping therapy has been created. With this version, a rubber pump instead of fire is used to create the vacuum within the cup that is placed on the skin. In some cases, a therapist will use silicone cups and then move the cups from location to location on the skin, creating a massage-like effect.
Wet cupping is yet another type of cupping therapy, and it is considered the most specialized version. The process involves using heated or suction cups, except before the cups are applied, small punctures are made on the surface of the skin. Once the cups are put over the cups, the suction draws blood out of the puncture marks. Also known as “blood cupping therapy”, it enhances blood circulation, relieves muscle tension, which then enhances blood flow and encourage cellular repair. In one study, it was suggested that wet cupping may be able to help the body clear out heavy metals.
You’re probably wondering, “What to expect after cupping?” Well, first and foremost, whether traditional, modern, or wet, post-cupping, you can expect to see red spots on the surface of your skin. The marks will lighten, and within 10 days, should completely subside. Post wet cupping therapy, an antibiotic ointment and bandage may be applied to prevent infection.
But what are the benefits of cupping therapy? Several studies have been conducted to assess the benefits, and it has been determined that this type of therapy can be beneficial for a variety of conditions, such as:
- Lumbar disc herniation
- Cough and dyspnea
- Facial paralysis
- Cervical spondylosis
- High blood pressure
- Rheumatic diseases, like arthritis and fibromyalgia
- Anxiety and depression
- Varicose veins
- Bronchial congestion associated with asthma and allergies
- Back pain