Cupping

I love the healing I experience when I have a cupping session with my massage therapist or my acupuncturist.  We humans have used cupping for thousands of years to ease back pain, neck pain, headaches, and to speed the healing time and remedy other insults and injuries to our bodies.

Cupping therapy involves creating a suction force to pull blood into the skin. In my experience with cupping, it causes slight bruising.  I’ve not had any negative experiences with upping but I understand in rare cases it may lead to skin infection. While research on the benefits of cupping seems scarce, the treatment risks are low.

What is cupping?

Cupping is an ancient healing therapy that some people use to ease pain. A provider places cups on your back, stomach, arms, legs, or other parts of your body. Inside the cup, a vacuum or suction force pulls skin upward.  Cupping is a form of traditional Chinese and Middle Eastern medicine. People have practiced cupping therapy for thousands of years.

massage with cupping

How does cupping work?
Experts are still exploring how cupping eases pain and disease symptoms. There isn’t a lot of research on the therapy.  Suction from cupping draws fluid into the treated area. This suction force expands and breaks open tiny blood vessels (capillaries) under the skin. Your body treats the cupping area like an injury. It sends more blood to the area to stimulate the natural healing process. Some people theorize that cupping clears the pores and releases toxins.

Who performs cupping?

A variety of professionals can receive training to perform cupping, including:

  • Acupuncturists
  • Chiropractors
  • Massage therapists
  • Medical doctors
  • Physical therapists

What does cupping treat?

Most cupping is used to relieve conditions that cause pain. Some people say it also helps with chronic (ongoing) health issues. Cupping may ease symptoms of:

  • Arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Back pain, neck pain, knee pain and shoulder pain.
  • Breathing problems, such as asthma.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel disease (IBD).
  • Headaches and migraines.
  • High blood pressure (hypertension).

What are the types of cups used with cupping?

Most providers use glass or plastic cups, other options include: Bamboo, Ceramic, Metal, Silicone. My therapist uses glass or acrylic cups and the cups are in various sizes: larger cups for the back area and legs and smaller cups for the face and neck areas.

How is cupping performed? 
There are different ways to perform cupping. The steps vary slightly depending on the chosen method. My massage therapist uses the vacuum method of cupping so the cups are not left on my back.  Depending  Some treatments involve briefly moving the cups to stretch and massage the area. Depending on the treatment, your provider may place multiple cups on your skin or use just one cup as a vacuum as my therapist does.

Cupping methods include:

Dry: Your provider heats the inside of each cup — typically with an alcohol-soaked cotton ball that is set aflame. The heat sends oxygen out of the cup, creating a vacuum. Some providers use a suction device to remove air from cups. Once placed on your skin, the vacuum force pulls skin up into the cup.

Wet: Your provider uses a needle to lightly puncture your skin before, and sometimes after, cupping. Toxins leave the body through the puncture wounds during the cupping procedure.

What should I expect after cupping?

The suction force from cupping breaks open tiny blood vessels under the skin. You will have round bruise-like marks that fade in a week or two.

RISKS / BENEFITS:

Cupping is a relatively low-risk therapy. I have no side effects from cupping, only a small about of bruising.  Still, you may or may not experience some or none of these outcomes:

Burns from heated cups.  In my treatment we use only vacuum cups, not heated cups.

Fatigue.

Headaches.

Muscle tension or soreness.

Nausea.

Skin infections, itching or scarring.

Who shouldn’t get cupping?

Because researchers know little about cupping’s effects on pregnancy, moms-to-be shouldn’t get the therapy. You should also forego cupping if you have:

  • Bleeding disorders like hemophilia.
  • Blood clotting problems, such as deep vein thrombosis or history of strokes.
  • Skin conditions, including eczema and psoriasis.
  • Seizures (epilepsy).

How effective is cupping?

There aren’t many high-quality studies about the effectiveness of cupping. And researchers don’t know a lot about why or how cupping might help people. Cupping may provide a placebo effect, meaning it helps because people believe it does.

When to Call the Doctor:

You should call your healthcare provider if you receive cupping and experience:

  • Burns
  • Extreme pain or soreness.
  • Fever or other signs of skin infection (redness, tenderness, yellow discharge).

A note from Cleveland Clinic: Cupping therapy may help ease certain symptoms, such as pain. Not much is known about the therapy’s effectiveness, how it works or what conditions it treats. While cupping is relatively safe, you should talk to your healthcare provider before trying the therapy.

References:

  • Aboushanab TS, AlSanad S. Cupping Therapy: An Overview from a Modern Medicine Perspective. (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2005290117302042?via%3Dihub) Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies. 2018;11(3):83-87. Accessed 8/19/2020.
  • American Physical Therapy Association. Cupping: Why We’re All Seeing Spots. (https://www.apta.org/article/2016/08/15/cupping-why-were-all-seeing-spots) Accessed 8/19/2020.
  • Furhad S, Bokhari AA. Cupping Therapy. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538253/) Accessed 8/19/2020.
  • National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Cupping. (https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/cupping) Accessed 8/19/2020.

Source: – The Cleveland Clinic