May 24, 2014

What the Heck Is Cupping Therapy?

cupping therapy Chinese Medicine

Have you ever heard of “cupping” therapy and wondered what it was?

“Cupping” may sound strange, but practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine have healed people with this method for thousands of years.

Cupping therapy is an ancient medical treatment that relies upon creating a local suction to mobilize blood flow in order to promote healing. Cupping can provide relief for migraines, muscular tension, respiratory diseases, digestive diseases, and chronic pain, to just name a few.

The earliest recorded mention of cupping comes from the early fourth century in Ge Hong’s A Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies. It recommended that a hollowed-out horn was the tool of choice for the practice.

But a lot has changed since this technique’s inception. Modern practitioners may use glass, bamboo, and pottery cups to create the healing suction. During a typical session, a cotton ball soaked in alcohol is burned inside the cup, removing all oxygen and creating a vacuum that anchors the cup to the skin. Other methods—such as holding the cup over a small flame and using a hand pump instead of fire—are also used.

Flame is never used near the skin, only to create suction.

Cupping can be static in that the cups sit where they are placed for a period of time. Otherwise, moving cupping can be performed. To perform moving cupping, the cups are placed on the proper areas of the body and then slid across oiled skin. The effect is much like a “reverse massage;” skin and superficial muscle are gently pulled into the cup, which loosens muscles and encourages better blood flow, among other positive effects. It acts much like a deep tissue massage and is thought to affect tissues up to four inches deep from the external skin.

This treatment releases toxins, clears blockages, and helps refresh veins and arteries within the treatment area. As with acupuncture, which is often performed with the cupping procedure, the cups are placed along the meridians, or energy pathways, of the body to target specific conditions.

The discoloration that occurs after a cupping session is often confused with bruising. Bruising is caused by trauma to the blood vessels that cause blood to leak out of the vessels into tissues of the skin. The discoloration that may follow cupping comes from the toxins being pulled to the surface of the skin so that the body’s lymphatic system can flush them out. The vacuum formed by the cupping draws up the old, non-circulating, stagnant blood and sticky fluids  from the area.

By pulling these toxins up to the surface and away form the injury, healthy circulation can be restored to the affected area. As the cupping sessions progress, the discoloration will become less and less with each treatment as space is created for oxygen, living cells, and nutrients to circulate freely.

If you experience chronic conditions that keep you from living your best, there’s only health to gain by trying this non-invasive, low-risk treatment. As with any therapy, there may be contraindications for some people no matter how low-risk the treatment is. Contact your local acupuncturist to find out if this treatment is right for you.

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Editor: Renée Picard

Image: Wikimedia Commons 

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