For those who haven’t studied different Chinese therapies and treatments, you may have only heard about cupping when celebrities started using it. Occasionally, you’ll see an actress walking down the red carpet with red circles on their back, but most people seemed to have started paying attention to cupping during the Rio Olympics after Michael Phelps and the U.S. Swim Team had red circular marks on their bodies.
What Is Cupping?
Cupping is an ancient Chinese medical treatment that dates back to 300 AD and has also been used in a wide variety of regions and cultures including:
Cupping therapy was even recommended by Hippocrates, the man whom many consider to be the "Father of Modern Medicine," in his guide to clinical treatment.
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), cupping is used, “To remove stagnation and stimulate the flow of qi (chi). Qi is the free flow of vital energy circulating through the body and the world around us; if the qi is disrupted or disturbed, it can create stagnation (blockages) or imbalances in the body.”
Cupping therapy consists of having round glass suction cups that are warmed, then placed on sore parts of the body. The placement of the glass cup creates a partial vacuum, which is designed to stimulate muscles and blood flow, while relieving pain. The suction from the cup and skin creates the red circles on the surface of the skin.
What is the Cupping Process?
There are two different types of methods of cupping: wet and dry. According to Pacific College of Oriental Medicine (PCOM), “In dry cupping, the therapist will simply place the suction cups on the skin. In wet cupping, the practitioner will make a small incision on the skin and then apply the suction cup to draw out small amounts of blood.”
The cups used can be made from glass, bamboo, earthenware or silicone.
There are a few ways that your doctor will create the suction in the cups on your body:
One of the more popular methods as described by PCOM is to rub alcohol onto the bottom of the cup, then lighten it and put the cup immediately against the skin.
Another method is to place the inverted cup over a small flame or use an alcohol-soaked pad over an insulating material, like leather, to protect the skin, then light the pad and place an empty cup over the fire to put it out.
Please note that flames are not to be used near the skin and are not lit during the cupping process, but are meant to create the heat that causes the suction inside the small cups.
Once the suction has occurred, the cups are delicately moved across the skin or are glided over the body. Sometimes, medical massage oils are used to help improve the movement of the glass going across the skin.
The suction caused by the cups causes the skin and superficial muscle layer to be drawn or sucked into the cup. PCOM notes that, “Cupping is much like the inverse of massage - rather than applying pressure to muscles, it uses gentle pressure to pull them upward. For most patients, this is a particularly relaxing and relieving sensation. Once suctioned, the cups are generally left in place for about ten minutes while the patient relaxes.”
What Does Cupping Treat?
Cupping treats a variety of issues from lung disorders to physical pain. Here are a few of the ailments that can be helped from cupping as noted in Medicine Net.
Cupping can be used to treat lung disorders such as:
Cupping is also traditionally used to help relieve:
Researchers have studied cupping primarily in China, finding benefits in conditions such as anxiety, depression, back pain, varicose veins, high blood pressure, eczema, acne, fertility, arthritis, fibromyalgia, diabetes, anemia, shingles (herpes zoster), insomnia and gout.
As reported by Peak Fitness, “Leonid Kalichman, Ph.D., a senior lecturer at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, has written more than 150 papers on physiotherapy and rheumatology. He believes that by causing localized inflammation, cupping helps trigger cytokine production that modulate your immune system response.”
Also noted by Peak Fitness, a research paper published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, Kalichman and his co-author Efgeni Rozenfeld noted:
Mechanically, cupping increases blood circulation, whereas physiologically it activates the immune system and stimulates the mechanosensitive fibers, thus leading to a reduction in pain.
There is initial scientific evidence that dry cupping can reduce musculoskeletal pain. Since cupping is an inexpensive, noninvasive and low-risk (if performed by a trained practitioner) therapeutic modality, we believe that it should be included in the arsenal of musculoskeletal medicine.
The benefits of cupping continue as Mind Body Green lists even more ailments this therapy addresses: “It can help remove toxins from the body and stimulate the flow of fresh blood, lymph and Qi to the affected area and throughout the body. It often works wonders for patients with the flu, colds, coughs, back and muscle pain, poor circulation, anxiety, red itchy skin conditions (though cups are not applied to inflamed areas), allergies, fevers, aches and myriad other pains.”
Cupping in the Mainstream Media
While there is a strong connection between cupping and Eastern medicine, many of the biggest names in the West have been engaging in cupping for a while now. Here are two instances of cupping in Hollywood and sports that should help bring this treatment to the mainstream.
1. Celebrity Use of Cupping
One of the most famous celebrities to use cupping is Gwyneth Paltrow, who was spotted with cups on her body back in 2004 at a movie premier. In a write up on her website, Goop, called “The Healing Power of Cupping,” Paltrow provided a forward to the article claiming, “Eastern medicine has a different approach than Western medicine—it’s more holistic. The root of the problem is addressed, as opposed to a symptom being attended to with prescription medication, only to return. Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful as hell for a round of antibiotics or surgery when necessary, but I have been helped tremendously by various practices that help the body heal itself. When implemented by a professional with experience, the benefits can work wonders.”
A number of celebrities also practice cupping include Jennifer Aniston, Victoria Beckham, Jessica Simpson and David Arquette.
2. Athletes Use of Cupping
As we mentioned above, Michael Phelps made waves during the 2016 Olympic games with his cupping marks. In a discussion with Time Magazine, Phelps said, “I’ve done cupping for a while before meets…but I haven’t had a bruise like this for a while. I asked for a little help yesterday because I was a little sore and I was training hard.”
The US Men’s Olympic Gymnastics team also participates in cupping therapy. Alex Naddour tried massages and cortisone shots for relief from the wear-and-tear of practicing and working out.
Naddour said to USA Today that cupping has “…been the secret that I have had through this year that keeps me healthy…it’s been better than any money I’ve spent on anything else.”
Team captain Chris Brooks also added, “You’re like, ‘OK, I’m sore here’…throw a cup on, and your roommate will help you or you can do it yourself.”
Cupping has also been seen in Major League Baseball. Mind Body Green noted that the trend for the Mets started when teammate Daisuke Matsuzaka appeared in the locker room with cupping marks. The pitcher started cupping about two years ago and was quoted in the Wall Street Journal article, Mets Latch On to Cupping Therapy, and Have the Marks to Prove It saying, "As an athlete, I want to play as long as possible, in order to do that, I need to find ways to protect my body. I'm always looking for something that might be better."
Cupping for Your Health
The red marks from cupping make it look worse than it is, but this type of treatment has a number of benefits including pain relief, digestive issues and asthma. If you are interested in learning more about cupping or other forms of traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture, contact us or schedule an appointment to experience the benefits yourself.
About Green Lake Natural Health:
Green Lake Natural Health provides natural healing services and medicinal herb counseling to patients. The mission of Green Lake Natural Health is to provide customized care to patients to effectively treat their health concerns in a natural manner that restores harmony and healing in the body. Services include, but are not limited to, acupuncture, massage, medicinal herb counseling to treat conditions such as anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain and more. Proudly serving the Seattle community since 2010.