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Cupping therapy: what is it ?

drawing of a hand holding a cup

Cupping is one of the most ancient and wide spread form of medicine. It has been around for thousands of years all across the globe. The Egyptian Ebers papyrus dating from 1550 BC mentions the benefits of cupping.

The Greek doctors and fathers of modern western medicine Galen and Hippocrates were also users and advocates of cupping therapy, that later on spread to the muslim world and modern Europe. There are also traces of cupping medicine use among native Americans populations as well as in Africa.

On a more anecdotal level, both my parents (one raised in France the other in Algeria) remember their mothers giving them cupping therapy with empty yogurt glass jars to prevent colds.

Fire cupping is nowadays mostly known as an integral part of Chinese medicine and acupuncture, with the earliest official records of its use in China dating back to about 3,000 years ago in a document describing the use of cupping to cure pulmonary tuberculosis. The famous Taoist doctor, Ge Hong (281–341 A.D.), mentions the use of cups made from animal horns. in his book "A Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies"

Recently, cupping therapy has gained a lot of attention thanks to olympic athletes such as Michael Phelps rocking their cupping marks during competitions.

Some movie and TV stars also like to Instagram their cupping marks (I mean you, Kaley Cuoco and Busy Philips...)

So, what gives?


Tools of the trade : the cups

Cupping can be done in many ways, with different types of cups.

In the original method, one uses fire inside a glass, bamboo, or animal horn cup to burn off the oxygen and create negative pressure, before applying the cup to the skin and creating a suction effect.

More modern methods involve pumps that suck the air out of the cup, or even simple silicone cups that you can just squeeze with your hands, mostly used in pediatrics and cosmetic.

bamboo cups


Does it hurt?

Short answer : no!

Chinese proverb saying "where there is stagnation there will be pain"

The sensation created by the suction of the cup feels like a warming deep massage.

If and when the sliding cup method is employed, that is to say when the cups are moved across an area, you can experience a little soreness from breaking up of stagnation.

The marks left by the cups are what the Chinese call "寒气" or cold qi. The darker the marks, the more stagnation there was. In terms of modern medicine, those can be thought of as accumulation of toxins, lymph, stagnant blood or dead red blood cells, or metabolic byproducts like lactic acid that are being moved and unstuck. The process of cupping increases the blood and lymph supply to an area (microcirculation). This means reduced local inflammation and better drainage of waste.

The marks are very different from regular bruises, in that they are usually not painful to the touch, and go away within a few days.


What is it good for?

For Athletes

Since the 2016 Olympic games, you probably have seen more and more athletes rocking those cup marks on various parts of their body. Recently, CrossFit athlete Josh Bridges was also trying to show us some skill (sic!) with fire cupping.

Cupping therapy is said to have the following benefits :

  • Deep tissue massage

  • Fascia release

  • Increased blood circulation leading to reduced local inflammation

  • Increased speed of recovery from muscle soreness, and injuries like tendonitis

I have used it successfully on my patients for the following ailments :

  • back pain

  • sprained joints

  • stiff neck and migraines

  • frozen shoulder

  • muscle soreness

  • tendonitis (tennis elbow)

For preventing colds

When placed on the upper back, the cups help release "Han Qi" or cold qi. This means cupping can make you sweat out a cold and facilitate the expectoration of mucus in a congested chest.

Cosmetic usages : Weight loss and anti-aging

When used on areas with a lot of cellulite, like the upper thighs for example, cupping can be a little painful. The stagnation of lymph and inflamed fat cells needs to be broken down, and the deep massage of the cups can make you feel sore, but it will melt those dimples under the skin when done regularly and consistently.


What to expect during and after a cupping session ?

Depending on your ailment, you will receive different styles of cupping. The cups can be left in place or you can be given a sliding-cup massage. Most people describe the sensation as warming, pleasant and relaxing. Cupping can be done with or without an acupuncture treatment, and can be performed as often as every other day.

You will get some very Insta-worthy marks, but they will disappear in a few days.

Let me know if you have any questions regarding cupping and contact me to book a session!


References– Cupping_therapy


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