Cupping therapy is a form of alternative medicine in which cups are placed on the skin to create suction. The cups can be made of a variety of materials, including:
Supporters of cupping therapy believe the suction of the cups mobilizes blood flow to promote the healing of a broad range of medical ailments.
Cupping therapy dates back to ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern cultures. One of the oldest medical textbooks in the world, the Ebers Papyrus, describes how the ancient Egyptians were using cupping therapy in 1,550 B.C.
In general, Western medical societies are skeptical of the health claims made by cupping therapy supporters. “Available scientific evidence does not support cupping as a cure for cancer or any other disease,” states the American Cancer Society. “Reports of successful treatment with cupping are mainly anecdotal rather than from research studies.”
But a 2012 study published in the journal PLoS ONE suggests that cupping therapy may have more than a placebo effect. Australian and Chinese researchers reviewed 135 studies on cupping therapy published between 1992 and 2010. They concluded that cupping therapy may be effective when combined with other treatments like acupuncture or medications in treating various diseases and conditions, such as:
- Herpes zoster
- Facial paralysis
- Cervical spondylosis
But the researchers acknowledge that many of the studies in their review may have contained some bias. They say better studies are needed to draw a definite conclusion.
TYPES OF CUPPING THERAPY
There are various types of cupping therapy, including:
- Dry cupping (suction only)
- Wet cupping (combination of suction and controlled medicinal bleeding)
During both types of cupping, a flammable substance such as alcohol, herbs, or paper is placed in a cup and set on fire. As the fire goes out, the cup is placed upside down on the patient’s skin.
As the air inside the cup cools, it creates a vacuum. This causes the skin to rise and redden as blood vessels expand. The cup is generally left in place for five to 10 minutes.
A more modern version of cupping uses a rubber pump to create the vacuum inside the cup. Sometimes practitioners use medical-grade silicone cups. These are pliable enough to be moved from place to place on the skin and produce a massage-like effect.
During wet cupping, a mild suction is created using a cup that is left in place for about three minutes. The practitioner then removes the cup and uses a small scalpel to make superficial skin incisions. Then he or she performs a second suction to draw out a small quantity of blood.
After the procedure, the site may be covered with an antibiotic ointment and bandage to prevent infection. The skin’s appearance generally returns to normal within 10 days.
Cupping therapy supporters believe that wet cupping removes harmful substances and toxins from the body to promote healing.
BENEFITS OF CUPPING THERAPY
The British Cupping Society says cupping therapy can treat a variety of conditions. This has not been backed up by studies. But the organization says cupping therapy is used to treat:
- Blood disorders such as anemia and hemophilia
- Rheumatic diseases such as arthritis and fibromyalgia
- Fertility and gynecological disorders
- Skin problems such as eczema and acne
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Anxiety and depression
- Bronchial congestion caused by allergies and asthma
- Varicose veins
Supporters also believe that cupping therapy can reduce pain and inflammation throughout the body. And they say it can promote mental and physical relaxation and well-being.
SIDE EFFECTS OF CUPPING THERAPY
Cupping is considered to be relatively safe, especially when performed by trained health professionals. Potential side effects include:
- Mild discomfort
- Skin infection
According to the British Cupping Society, cupping therapy should be avoided by the following groups:
- Pregnant or menstruating women
- People with metastatic cancer (cancer that has spread from one part of the body to another)
- People with bone fractures or muscle spasms
The organization also says cupping therapy should not be applied to sites on the body that have:
- A deep vein thrombosis
- An ulcer
- An artery
- A pulse that can be felt
According to the American Cancer Society, one problem associated with cupping therapy is that patients may skip conventional treatment: “Relying on this treatment alone and delaying or avoiding conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences.”
Also, a health care provider may mistakenly think marks left from cupping therapy are evidence of physical abuse.
Like many alternative treatments, cupping therapy has not been extensively studied. Researchers say that most cupping therapy studies have been small and poorly designed. More studies are needed to prove or disprove claims of health benefits.
HERE’S HOW CUPPING WORKS?
As we age, especially after 40 years old, our body begins to break down. This includes loss of muscle, adhesions in fascia and decrease in blood flow. You can see this as your muscle tone decreases, we get stiffer and wrinkles start to appear in new places. As we move less and decrease our physical activity the blood supply to tissues decrease and the fascia gets knotted and scarred up further limiting movement and becoming a vicious cycle.
Putting cups over a region helps the body reverse some of these effects. What I’m about to tell you was revealed in the Russians research on cupping.
Initially it pulls blood into an area. The tissues get saturated with fresh blood while the vacuum pulls stagnant blood out of the area. You can see this in the hickey like appearance that is typically left behind. You may have a black and blue appearance that is rarely painful. I have noticed a couple characteristics about this phenomenon. One is that it happens more in people over 40 and two the more cupping you receive the less the bruising happens.
As new blood is forced into the tissues around the cups the body will begin to develop new blood vessels called neovascularization, new blood vessel formation. I believe this is why cupping can cause a lasting effect. As the new vessels form they will have the capability to feed the tissues with nutrient and oxygen. Like you and me, all tissues need food and oxygen to survive.
Something else happens early in this process as well. It is called sterile inflammation. Now many hear the word inflammation and think it is a bad thing. After all we take anti-inflammatory when there is pain and swelling so inflammation must be bad, right? But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Inflammation is the first line of healing. The body releases white blood cells, platelets, fibroblasts and other healing chemicals to promote healing. When the vacuum occurs it causes separation of the different layers of tissue which can cause micro trauma and tearing. The healing chemicals I mentioned above get released and stimulate healing. The inflammation is not chronic nor is it bad.
Next the fascia and tissue can be stretched several feet with cupping. The micro trauma is occurring, the new blood vessels are being formed and the blood and nutrients are starting to flow to the damaged tissue. But when you put 10 or so cups on the back or around the injured area it can begin to stretch the connective tissue and fascia for better movement. Many tell me that cupping works faster and last longer for them than massage. It’s amazing to see the connective tissue stretch this much. Many people start out very tight but over time they can confirm what I see when doing this to people that the tissue is getting looser.
I have seen cupping work very well when used in conjunction with acupuncture and manipulation. While these other techniques address different tissues and functions of the body, no painful condition or injury exists without other tissue being involved.
SO TO WRAP UP, CUPPING CAN HELP YOU OVERCOME OLD AND NEW INJURY BY:
- Increasing circulation
- Increasing oxygenation and tissue delivery
- Remove old stagnant blood
- Cause micro trauma and beneficial inflammation
- Create new blood vessels
- Stretch fascia and connective tissue.
Cupping is helpful when used in conjunction with joint manipulation and acupuncture. Cupping, like many holistic techniques works at different rates for different people.
I recall when I brought cupping into the office. My first patient was a truck driver who was involved in a truck accident. He was a slow responder to most of his treatments including drugs and surgery. By time he came to me he was cynical and pessimistic. I told him about cupping and he was willing to try it.
I came into the room on the next visits and it started with “I don’t know what you did to me last visit but… I feel a ton better. ”
Now I have to say as he said this I was quite surprised not expecting to hear this from him. Remember he was pessimistic and cynical. We continued with cupping and acupuncture and his case resolved quite well and he went back to work full time and as his pain improved so did his outlook on life.
If you have chronic muscle and joint paintry cupping, you’ll know quickly if it will help. Call today to schedule you appointment.