Cupping therapy sounds a little medieval right? There will be fire, cups, dark marks that look like the aftermath of an octopus attack. And then
It just seems to raise so many questions! In this article, I will answer some of the most commonly asked questions about cupping.
Exploring this article will increase your understanding about this amazing modality. If your questions have not been answered by the end, then leave a comment for me to answer.
Cupping Therapy: Benefits & More
What is cupping therapy?
Cupping therapy is:
- Negative suction applied with a cup
- A folk remedy found in many different cultures
- Used for a broad range of conditions
A cupping massage involves the attachment of cup(s) to the body. This is through the use of heat or suction, to produce a negative pressure. This pressure draws and stretches the muscle tissue.
Commonly known as Chinese cupping, it is also a folk remedy through southern Europe and northern Africa. Cupping treatment relieves ailments such as pain and the common cold.
The earliest written evidence of use in the
Cupping is becoming more well known and popular in the west. Famous athletes and celebrities are often seen showing cupping marks. It has emerged under new names such as myofascial decompression therapy or myofascial cupping therapy.
Water buffalo horns were traditionally used in China. Bamboo, ceramic, glass, plastic and silicon cups are more common in modern day use.
What are the benefits of cupping?
The benefits of cupping include:
- Increased circulation of Qi, blood and fluids (lymph)
- Breaks up tissue adhesions
- Removes toxins
- Relieves pain
Cupping therapy is often used to relieve muscular pain. It also assists the systemic functioning of your body and restores health.
Cupping treatment relaxes the surrounding muscles. The breaking up of tissue adhesions allows the blood and lymph fluids to move freely. It draws toxins out from deep within the muscles and body. This allows them to be flushed away and the area revitalised with fresh blood and nutrients.
A 2016 study showed that the benefits of cupping include a significant reduction in the experience of neck and shoulder pain within one treatment1. Other objective measurements included an increase in local skin surface temperature – indicating that local circulation also benefitted.
These toxins are a result of the congestion of Qi and blood in the body. Congestion is the source of local pain, as in the ancient Chinese saying
“where there is pain, there is no free flow”Ancient Chinese saying
A common view amongst different cultures is the use of cupping to ease diseases caused by climatic factors. Hence the common phrase ‘under the weather’. Muscular aches and the common cold are the most commonly treated afflictions.A common view amongst different cultures is the use of cupping to ease diseases caused by climatic factors. Hence the common phrase 'under the weather'. Click To Tweet
Cups also may be applied with a lighter pressure at specific acupuncture points. Through this mechanism, cupping benefits the function of related organs within the body.
How does cupping work?
Cupping works by:
- Stretching the connective tissue
- Breaking up tissue adhesions
- Allowing healthy circulation
- Removes toxins
- Relaxes the nervous system
Cupping stretches the connective tissue to release constriction and reduce pain.
The action of creating a partial vacuum draws the skin, muscles and fascia into the cup. This open the tissue to promote the local circulation of Qi and Xue.
Chinese cupping is called Ba Sha, loosely translated as “pull out evil”. Sha displays at the surface as red
Put another way, cupping draws stagnant blood and toxins to the surface. This
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Cupping also affects the flow of blood and lymph in the local region. This brings healthy nutrition to the area and removes waste.
It has been suggested that this may increase the level of red and white blood cells locally. It also can shift the acidic balance of blood to a neutral or alkaline state.
A result of cupping is that it drops ESR (Erythrocyte sedimentation rate – utilized to monitor and identify diseases). Levels of inflammatory markers such as fibrogen and ferritin also lower.
Cupping stimulates the nerves, helping to regulate the autonomic nervous system. This can affect the organs controlled by the relevant underlying nerves. Cupping along the back affects the areas where these nerves enter and leave the spinal column.
Is fire cupping the only method of cupping therapy?
In cupping therapy there are three types of cup used:
- Fire cups
- Pump cups
- Rubber (silicone) cups
Cups can be applied with the use of heat, known as fire cupping. In this method a flame is introduced to the empty space of the cup to consume the oxygen. The cup is then quickly applied to the body creating a vacuum.
Some cups use a pump that sucks the air out of the cup after it is placed on the skin. This allows for a more precise control over the amount of suction,
A more modern invention is rubber cups. These are first squeezed to remove the empty space and then applied to the body. The advantage of this lies in the flexibility of the edges. This allows the application of cups to bony and irregular areas.
There are different types of cupping therapy that may be suitable depending on your presenting condition.
What are the side effects and dangers of cupping therapy?
The most common side effects of cupping are:
- Cupping marks
- Mild fatigue
Often, though not always, cupping marks appear after cupping treatment. In Chinese
These marks look like ‘cupping bruises’. They are not bruises because
- A bruise indicates trauma has occurred.
- A bruise tends to be tender to palpate which should not be the case with cupping marks.
- A bruise changes colour as it heals. First to blue as a red pigment of hemoglobin loses its oxygen, and then to brown or yellow as the hemoglobin is broken down and reabsorbed.
This does not happen with cupping marks. If bruises occur after treatment, it indicates the pressure was too strong.
The depth of colour indicating the amount of toxin being released. Where dark marks remain, it is important to ensure a good intake of water in the following days. This to best assist the body in clearing these marks and toxins away. Keeping the treated area warm and covered also benefits the healing process during this period.
Cupping marks will disappear in 2 – 10 days. This is quicker in healthier patients, slower in patients with more chronic conditions. Cupping marks will lessen with later treatments. This assumes that the toxic aetiological source (eg smoking) isn’t present.
The best things to help move the marks from cupping on are:
- Drink plenty of water to help cleanse the body and lymphatic system
- Light movement of the area
- Avoid causative factors eg bad posture, smoking etc
Some light fatigue may be experienced after treatment. This occurs as the body flushes toxins from circulation that were previously contained.
Possible dangers include:
- Burns if fire cupping used
- Blisters if cups left on too long
Most dangers can be avoided by only receiving cupping for a well trained and experienced practitioner.
If you are currently on blood
How to learn cupping therapy
Cupping is taught as part of studies in acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. It is offered to practitioners of other modalities in continuing professional development courses.
Cupping in Melbourne
Cupping may be used as a stand-alone
If you are looking for Chinese cupping in Melbourne, Dantian Health is in Brunswick in the inner north. I offer cupping therapy as an adjunct to acupuncture and massage sessions, as well as 30min stand-alone sessions.
What else would you like to know?
Thanks for reading this far. Have I missed your question? Was something unclear? Let me know in the comments below!
- Lei-Mei, C., Li-Mei, L., Chien-Lin, C., Shu-Fang, W., Hui-Ling, L. & Tai-Chu, P. The Effectiveness of Cupping Therapy on Relieving Chronic Neck and Shoulder Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial.
Evidence BasedComplementary and Alternative Medicine. doi: 10.1155/2016/7358918, Epub 2016 Mar 17