What Is It Good For?
What is cupping therapy and what is it good for? According to The British Acupuncture Council it is where ‘glass cups with a vacuum seal are placed on the skin to stimulate blood flow and clear stagnant qi’.
In essence it can help with pain, inflammation, blood flow, relaxation and well-being. We could also consider cupping as a form of deep tissue massage.
The cups can be fashioned from bamboo, glass, plastic or earthenware. Cupping is by no means a new phenomenon. According to The Academy of Classical Oriental Sciences, ‘the earliest record of cupping is in the Bo Shu (an ancient book written on silk), which was discovered in a tomb of the Han Dynasty [206-220 AD]. Several other ancient texts mention Chinese medicine cupping. Several centuries later another famous medical classic, Su Sen Liang Fang, recorded an effective cure for chronic cough and the successful treatment of poisonous snake bites using cupping therapy’.
The modern cupping practitioner creates a partial vacuum using a lit taper, and the cup is placed on the skin. Sometimes a mechanical pump is used instead.
So how does it work? I like to explain it to my patients in this way.
The partial vacuum created inside the cups causes the skin within to be pulled up and to redden (see illustration), indicating that additional blood is flowing into this area. The effect is, I explain similar to deep tissue massage, and can be helpful in treating muscle injury and stiffness. Where a larger muscle area requires treatment, a little massage oil applied to the skin first will allow the cup to be moved around the affected zone. This draws blood to the area and ‘walks’ it along the muscle.
In clinical practice I will use cupping most often in treating lower
Cupping therapy – removing cups from a patient’s back
back pain, shoulder tension and in respiratory conditions such as the common cold (in which case it is applied on the upper back behind the lungs).
And finally here is a story to illustrate how cupping can be of benefit to athletes.
Three days prior to running a marathon, a lady came to me with a muscle tear in her calf. She could barely walk. Could I achieve the impossible and help her to compete? After assessing her, I oiled up the affected area and attached a cup. Sliding this along the muscle allowed me to improve local blood flow until the area was visibly red. I advised her to rest totally for 24 hours before recommencing running. And the result? She was thrilled to complete the marathon (though not in her best time).
And finally, you may have seen photographs of athletes with painful-looking round ring marks on their torsos as a result of this treatment. ‘Not for me’ do I hear you say? I clearly advise patients that surface marking may occur for a few days after cupping, and that there should be no accompanying pain as a result. The marks will always disappear. If carried out by a competent, trained practitioner cupping therapy should be safe and effective.
Cupping. A form of deep tissue massage for treating pain, inflammation, improving blood flow, relaxation and well-being.