Cupping therapy is one of the oldest medical therapies in the world. Originating in China around five thousand years ago, it’s use spread across the continents, with ancient records suggesting cupping therapy was used in Europe and in the Middle East from around 1550 BC. Cupping is still practiced in many parts of the world and gained some popularity after the Rio Olympic games when several athletes were reported to be using the therapy.
There are different techniques used in cupping therapy but common to all the different types is the application of a cup to create suction over a painful area.
The original cups were likely made of animal horn. Later the cups were made of bamboo, ceramic or metal. While modern cups are now made of glass.
During the cupping therapy, a partial vacuum is created in the cup, using fire or a suction pump, and the cup is applied to the skin. The suction produces reddening and warming of the skin as the skin is drawn into the cup and the local blood flow increases.
Cups can also be applied to specific acupuncture points or acupuncture channels. In this way, it can be used in many cases as an alternative or as an adjunct to acupuncture. In Chinese medicine cupping therapy is believed to correct imbalances in the internal biofield, restoring the flow of Qi, and creating a balance between yin and yang. This helps to strengthen the body’s resistance to pathogenic factors, promotes circulation and alleviates pain.
However, the benefits of cupping go beyond pain relief. It produces a similar benefit to deep tissue massage. The increased local circulation promotes healing, relaxes muscles, normalises function and improves range of motion. Research shows that cupping promotes the formation of new blood vessels, improves microcirculation, promotes cellular repair and accelerates healing.
There are several different forms of cupping therapy. I use dry cupping or sliding cupping methods.
Dry cupping involves suction only, and the cups stay on the skin for a short period of time, usually a few minutes. Depending on the strength of the suction this can create an accumulation of blood in the area that can take some days to disperse.
I prefer to use sliding cupping, also called moving cupping. This form of cupping therapy involves moving the cups over intact, oiled skin to create a massage-like effect. Since the cup does not stay in one place for any length of time the blood does not tend to accumulate in the skin.
Wet cupping is a method of cupping that involves a form of controlled bleeding which is enhanced with the suction cup. Though wet cupping is a traditional method of cupping therapy I don’t offer this form of cupping.
Traditionally cupping was used for a wide variety of ailments. You could consider cupping therapy for:
- joint pain
- back pain
- neck pain
- shoulder pain
- carpal tunnel syndrome
- sports injuries
You can read more about the benefits of cupping therapy in my post Which therapies for chronic pain?