Cupping is an alternative therapy that involves suctioning the skin with glass, plastic, or silicone cups. It may help improve blood flow, boost immune function, remove toxins, facilitate healing, and reduce pain.
One of the oldest medical texts tomention cupping is Eber’s papyrus (1550 B.C.) from Ancient Egypt, though cupping is a part of many ancient healing systems, including Chinese, Unani, traditional Korean, and Tibetan.
Greek physician Hippocrates, often referred to as the “father” of medicine, even compiled descriptions of cupping techniques.
These days, cupping therapy is usually found as a treatment offered by massage therapists and practitioners of Eastern medicine.
Proponents believe the suction helps facilitate the flow of “qi” in the body.Qi is a Chinese word meaning life force.
Many believe that cupping helps balance yin and yang, or the negative and positive, within the body. Restoring balance between these two extremes is thought to help with the body’s resistance to pathogens as well as its ability to increase blood flow and reduce pain.
Cupping increases blood circulation to the area where the cups are placed. This may relieve muscle tension, which can improve overall blood flow and promote cell repair. It may also help form new connective tissues and create new blood vessels in the tissue.
People use cupping to complement their care for a host of symptoms and conditions.
There is a growing body of research digging into how and why cupping may work.
Cupping is thought to alleviate symptoms by promoting peripheral (close to the skin) blood circulation and improving immunity.
According to the 2018 review, the effects of cupping therapy include:
- promoting the skin’s blood flow
- changing the skin’s biomechanical properties
- increasing pain thresholds
- improving local anaerobic (without oxygen) metabolism
- reducing inflammation
- boosting cellular immunity
According to a 2017 study, the mechanical effect of cupping increases local blood flow and stretches underlying tissue.
Activation of Heme oxygenase-1, a gene that plays a critical role in the prevention of vascular inflammation, could account for many of cupping therapy’s claimed local and systemic health benefits.
According to the research mentioned above, cupping may remove toxins by stimulating the immune response, both locally and systemically.
It may also eliminate uric acid, a natural waste product from the digestion of certain foods. Uric acid buildup can lead to high levels of acidity in the blood and urine.
Cupping may also have a positive effect on the lymphatic system, which is partially responsible for eliminating your body’s waste.
When the flow of lymph is interrupted, it can cause fluid buildup and prevent the body from properly eliminating toxins. Lymphatic drainage massage is one solution to this issue. Similarly, cupping may help increase the flow of lymph and prevent fluid buildup.
Where will my practitioner place the cups?
Cups are most often applied to the:
Generally, the back is the most common area for cups to be used. If you’re receiving facial or cosmetic cupping, cups will be placed on your face.
How does the suction part work?
The cup is often heated with fire using alcohol, herbs, or paper that’s placed directly into the cup. The fire source is removed, and the heated cup is placed with the open side directly onto your skin.
When the hot cup is placed onto your skin, the air inside the cup cools and creates a vacuum that draws the skin and muscle up into the cup. Your skin may turn red as the blood vessels respond to the change in pressure.
Some modern cupping practitioners have shifted to using rubber pumps to create suction versus more traditional heat methods.
Cupping has been used to treat a wide variety of conditions. It may be particularly effective at easing conditions that create muscle aches and pains.
Since the cups can also be applied to major acupressure points, the practice is possibly effective at treating digestive issues, skin issues, and other conditions commonly treated with acupressure.
Cupping therapy may help with the following conditions, among others:
- lower back pain
- neck and shoulder pain
- headache and migraine
- knee pain
- facial paralysis
- cough and dyspnea
- lumbar disc herniation
- cervical spondylosis
- brachialgia, the pain produced by a trapped nerve in the neck
- carpal tunnel syndrome
- diabetes mellitus
- rheumatoid arthritis