There has been much attention placed on cupping in the 2016 Olympics with athletes like swimming legend Michael Phelps, swimmer Ruta Meilutyte, gymnast Alex Naddour, and more than 100 other Olympians sporting the purple polka-dotted spots in various areas of their bodies. Many of these athletes have used cupping for years swearing by its medicinal benefits, saying it keeps them injury free and speeds recovery.
Skeptics have passed the benefits people report as simply a placebo effect. There have been more than 135 randomized controlled clinical trials conducted on cupping in the past 20 years. The scientists found conditions such as facial paralysis, shingles, acne and age related wear and tear of the spinal discs showed “significant benefit over other treatments alone in effecting a cure” when combining cupping therapy with acupuncture or medications. In my practice, I find cupping to be extremely beneficial for an array of conditions as do the many Olympic athletes and the long history it has placed in traditional Chinese medicine.
The history of Chinese cupping is a long history of healing and innovation. It’s one of the oldest methods of traditional Chinese medicine, dating back to the early fourth century. Later in the Tang and Qing dynasties books were written on specific ailments for which cupping was prescribed.
Cupping involves the application of glass, plastic or bamboo cups which adhere to the body through the use of a pump or by heat, thereby causing a vacuum effect, which suctions the localized skin up into the cup. The cups are used over certain acupuncture points and/or over areas of pain, called ah shi points. This process is not painful, rather it feels unique like the tentacles of an octopus have attached their suction cups onto your skin. There are several different styles of cupping that may be utilized which may incorporate sliding the cups along the skin, applying and removing them rapidly, leaving them in place and placing them over acupuncture needles.
This ancient method has been proven effective against common disorders associated with the pulmonary system including asthma, bronchitis, colds and flus and pulmonary tuberculosis. During the Tang Dynasty, cupping was the principal treatment for pulmonary tuberculosis. Cupping also successfully treats headaches, dizziness, abdominal pain, generalized pain, injuries of the back/shoulders/neck, herniated discs, disc degeneration, arthritis, knotted nerves and muscles.
The general idea is stagnation of circulation in the muscles and body tissues lead to pain and other illnesses. Cupping improves the circulation in these areas and pain is alleviated and underlying health issues are often helped. Drawing up the skin opens up the skin’s pores, which helps to stimulate the flow of blood, balances and realigns the flow of qi, breaks up obstructions, and creates an avenue for toxins to be drawn out of the body.
A practitioner may use as little as one and up to 20 or more cups during a single treatment depending upon the location to be treated. Once the cups are attached, they are generally left on for 5-15 minutes. They do leave a mark on the body which lasts for about 1-10 days depending upon the condition. These marks are useful as a diagnostic tool — the darker the mark, the more stagnation there is in the muscles. As the marks lighten through progressive treatments, it’s a sign the underlying conditions are improving.
It’s important to seek out an O.M.D (Doctor of Oriental Medicine) or an acupuncturist to assure safety as there are several contraindications to cupping.