What is Cupping Therapy?

cupping_glasses_heal_therapy-547642.jpgCupping 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 glass, bamboo, or earthenware. The modern use of glass enables the practitioner to see the skin and monitor what is happening. 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.

There are various types of cupping therapy, including:

  • Dry cupping (suction only)
  • Wet cupping (combination of suction and controlled medicinal bleeding)
  • Flash cupping (repeatedly applying and removing of cups)

One of several techniques may be used to create low pressure inside the cup: for example, a flash fire, which consumes all the oxygen and creates a vacuum before going out. The very hot air inside the vessel cools rapidly when placed against the skin. The reduced pressure within the cups draws the skin up into it. 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.

Typically, a series of cups are used in the area to be treated. In the most common treatment, a series of 2 to 12 cups are placed and left there for an average of 10-20 minutes. It leaves distinctive circular marks when done properly. The areas may feel as if they were sunburned for a short while. Ancient Chinese medicine prescribes this technique in cases where “stagnation” must be treated.

It draws stagnant qi and blood from deep within to the surface to be released easing pain. It is like the reverse of a massage where instead of pushing down you can comfortably pull up on the skin, adipose tissue, connective tissue, and underlying musculature. Often, it is used in conjunction with other techniques, like acupuncture and herbs. The cups are not always left stationary. Oil is can first be applied to the skin to allow the cups to slide when they have been positioned. This technique is known as gliding.

In addition to treating stagnation-based illnesses, cupping has been reported to leave a long-term feeling of relaxation and invigoration. It does not harm you when performed by someone properly trained in the technique and is perfectly safe to use in conjunction with other more mainstream forms of medicine. It is very popular in China and has a long history of use in acupuncture practice.