Cupping is a very old type of alternative medicine in which a practitioner places special cups on the skin of a patient for a few minutes to generate suction. People choose this type of treatment for several reasons: for getting deep-tissue massage, for well being and relaxation, for better blood circulation, and for the relief of inflammation and pain.
The cups may be made of:
Although it is now becoming a widely used type of treatment, cupping therapy has been practiced for thousands of years. Its use dates back to the ancient Egyptian, Middle Eastern, and Chinese cultures. In fact the Ebers Papyrus, one of the most ancient medical textbooks in the world tells how the ancient Egyptians practiced cupping therapy as early as 1,550 B.C.
The Different Forms of Cupping Therapy
The two different forms of cupping are wet and dry cupping.
In both forms of cupping, the practitioner places a flammable substance such as paper, herbs, or alcohol, into a cup and lights it up. As the fire slowly dies, the practitioner inverts the cup and applies it on the patient’s skin.
A vacuum is created inside the cup as the air cools. This causes your skin to turn red and rise as your blood vessels dilate. Usually, the cup is allowed to remain on the skin for about three minutes.
In wet cupping, the practitioner generates a mild suction by leaving a cup in place for about three minutes. He then removes the cup, takes a small scalpel, and creates tiny cuts on the patient’s skin. Next, the practitioner does a second round of suction to remove a small amount of blood in the cut areas.
In your initial session, three to five cups may be applied on certain parts of your body. Later on, to prevent infection, you may be treated with an antibiotic ointment and bandage. Usually, within ten days, your wounds have been healed and your skin should look normal again.
A newer version of cupping does not use fire but instead a rubber pump to generate a vacuum effect inside the cup. Some practitioners prefer silicone cups that can be easily moved from back and forth on the skin for a massage-like effect.
Those promoting this treatment think that wet cupping eliminates toxins and harmful substances from the body to foster healing. More studies are still being done to prove this theory.
There are practitioners who also provide “needle cupping.” In this technique, the practitioner first sticks acupuncture needles into the acupoints and then places the cups over them.
What Does Studies Show?
Unfortunately, there have been a few scientific studies done on cupping.
The Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine in 2015 published a report that stated cupping can be a viable treatment for the management of pain, herpes zoster, and acne.
This mirrors the findings of a report published in PLoS One in 2012. Chinese and Australian researchers reviewed 135 studies related to cupping therapy. According to them, cupping can be of help to people who received other treatments, like drugs or acupuncture, for different illnesses and conditions such as:
• Cervical spondylosis
• Paralysis of the face
• Herpes zoster
According to the British Cupping Society, cupping can be used to treat:
• Varicose veins
• Bronchial congestion brought about by asthma and allergies
• Depression and anxiety
• High blood pressure
• Skin disorders including acne and eczema
• Gynecological and fertility problems
• Rheumatic diseases including fibromyalgia and arthritis
• Blood disorders including hemophilia and anemia
As long as the cupping procedure is done by a trained health practitioner, cupping is fairly safe healing modality. Still, you may suffer from the following side effects in the parts of the body where the cups touch your skin:
• Skin infection
• Mild discomfort