Cupping Therapy


Cupping refers to an ancient Chinese practice in which a cup is applied to the skin and the pressure in the cup is reduced (by using change in heat or by suctioning out air), so that the skin and superficial muscle layer is drawn into and held in the cup.  In some cases, the cup may be moved while the suction of skin is active, causing a regional pulling of the skin and muscle (the technique is called gliding cupping). Cupping is a therapy that is especially useful in the treatment of problems of local qi, or blood stagnation in the channels, and is usually performed as an alternative to acupuncture.

How does it work?
This treatment has some relation to certain massage techniques, such as the rapid skin pinching along the back that is an important aspect of tuina (12).  In that practice, the skin is pinched, sometimes at specific points (e.g., bladder meridian points), until a redness is generated.  Cupping is applied by acupuncturists to certain acupuncture points, as well as to regions of the body that are affected by pain (where the pain is deeper than the tissues to be pulled).  When the cups are moved along the surface of the skin, the treatment is somewhat like guasha (literally, sand scraping), a folk remedy of southeast Asia which is often carried out by scraping the skin with a coin or other object with the intention of breaking up stagnation.  Movement of the cups is a gentler technique than guasha, as a lubricant allows the cup to slide without causing as much of the subcutaneous bruising that is an objective of guasha.  Still, a certain amount of bruising is expected both from fixed position cupping (especially at the site of the cup rim) and with movement of the cups.

Generally, the cup (we use silicone ones) is left in place for about 10 minutes (typical range is 5–15 minutes).  The skin becomes reddened due to the congestion of blood flow.  The cup is removed by pressing the skin along side it to allow some outside air to leak into it, thus equalizing the pressure and releasing it.  Some bruising along the site of the rim of the cup is expected.

The effect of manual therapies are greatly increased with Cupping.

  • Lung diseases (especially chronic cough and asthma)
  • Deep Tissue Massage
  • General Relaxation and Wellness
  • Myofascial Release
  • Lymphatic Drainage
  • Detoxification
  • Cellulite, Scars, Stretch Marks and Varicosities
  • Facial Treatments
  • Gastro-intestinal disorders
  • Orthopedic Conditions
  • Neuromuscular Dysfunctions
  • Sports Massage and Injuries
  • Stubborn Conditions
  • Fybromyalgia
  • Trigger Point Therapy
  • Traumatic Injuries
  • Chronic Conditions
  • Abdominals
  • Reflexology
  • Physical Therapy
  • Sports Medicine

Side Effects of Cupping Therapy
Cupping is considered to be relatively safe, especially when performed by trained professionals. Potential side effects include:

  • Mild discomfort
  • Burns
  • Bruises

Cupping therapy should be avoided by the following groups:

  • Pregnant or menstruating women
  • People with metastatic cancer (cancer that has spread from one part of the body to another)
  • People with bone fractures or muscle spasms, deep vein thrombosis, an ulcer, an arter

There are a number of methods of cupping — the two most common here in the U.S. are “fixed cupping” and “moving cupping.”

Fixed Cupping:
The cups are placed on a selected area of your body and then left in place without being moved.

Moving Cupping:
As the name implies, in this method your practitioner applies massage oil or cream on your skin in selected places, puts the cups over the areas to be treated and then slides them around that region of the body — most commonly the back. The cups slide easily because the cream has lubricated your body.

You ought to consider exploring the benefits of cupping if you seek relief from stress, pain, allergies, fatigue, flu, colds, back pain, anxiety, muscle aches, red itchy skin conditions or fever.

Here are 3 reasons why cupping just might go mainstream this year:

1. Celebrity cupping enthusiasts are growing in numbers.
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It was about 10 years ago when cupping first appeared in the tabloids. Actress Gwyneth Paltrow showed up on the red carpet with obvious round cupping marks on her back. She received a lot of press and later explained to Oprah, “It feels amazing and it’s very relaxing.”

Well, these days she is not alone among Hollywood stars who are devoted to this ancient healing technique. Last April, Jennifer Aniston arrived at the premiere of her movie, “Call Me Crazy” looking stunning in a strapless black dress which revealed cupping marks. She is known to be a long time fan of cupping and acupuncture.

Others stars who are outspoken proponents of cupping are Jessica Simpson, Lady Gaga and Victoria Beckham. They have spoken about using cupping for various physical complaints as well as for relaxation. Exes have picked up on the treatment too. Chris Martin (Paltrow’s “consciously uncoupled” partner) showed off his cupping circles while working out in London. Brad Pitt is also rumored to have tried cupping.

2. Athletes use cupping as a secret weapon.
Wang Qun, a Chinese swimmer proudly showed off her marks during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Always looking for methods to naturally improve health and performance, more athletes have turned to cupping. Tennis ace Andy Murray said he used cupping in conjunction with other treatments to relieve stiffness and to help address a back injury.

Mets baseball players have also adopted the treatment. In August The Wall Street Journal reported on the multitude of Mets players using cupping. The trend started for them after their teammate Daisuke Matsuzaka appeared in the locker room with cupping marks. The 33-year-old started cupping about two years ago and was quoted in WSJ 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.”

But cupping is not just for movie stars and athletes … cupping is highly beneficial for everyone.

3. Cupping provides relief for many health conditions.
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Cupping has numerous benefits — 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 is not exclusive to Traditional Chinese Medicine. Variations of this treatment were used by ancient Egyptians, North American Indians, early Greeks, and in other Asian and European countries. Cupping therapy was recommended by Hippocrates, the man whom many consider to be the “Father of Modern Medicine,” in his guide to clinical treatment.

To be cautious I generally practice a less intense treatment the first time, and then see how the patient reacts before implementing longer amounts of time and more suction.


History of Chinese Cupping
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The history of Chinese cupping dates back from the year 281 AD.  It was an ancient Taoist medical practice and was widely used in the courts of Imperial China during those times.  Its administration was first recorded by Ge Hong, in an ancient tract called Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies.

Ge Hong was a practicing Taoist, an alchemist, and a medicinal herbalist.  He was famous during his time as an accomplished healer and a trusted confidante of many high officials in ancient China.

During those times, Ge Hong and other medicine men used animal horns for cupping.  That is why in some medical tracts of the empire, cupping was referred to as the horn technique of healing.

Other ancient medicine men in the Arabian Desert and the Indian sub-continent also used cupping technique as one of their healing methods.  However, their practices in these areas were recorded at a much later time.

This led researchers to believe that cupping was indeed a Chinese invention and its practice was older than stated in recorded history.  There were horn implements that were discovered in the deep East Asian regions, especially in Northern China, Japan, and the Korean peninsula.

During the Tang Dynasty, cupping was the principal treatment for pulmonary tuberculosis.  It was also used in conjunction with acupuncture and moxibustion.  In fact, the three ancient medical practices became the standard treatment for chronic pulmonary diseases during the reign of the Tang Dynasty.

The ascension of the Qing Dynasty to the Imperial throne of China also saw the emergence of other tools used for cupping.  Qing doctors experimented with bamboo cups and ceramic pottery.  The practice came to be known as the fire jar qi.  It started the introduction of the wet method of cupping.

The bamboo cups were usually boiled and these were placed on affected areas.  These practices have been enshrined in the definitive medical tract called Supplement to Outline of Materia Medica by the famous physician Zhao Xuemin.
During the time of the Qing Dynasty, cupping technique and acupuncture were integrated into a single session therapy.  Heated cups were normally placed over embedded acupuncture needles.  It was also during these times that cupping was indicated for the treatment of common colds, back pains, knotted nerves and muscles, and arthralgia.

A variation of this technique was recorded in the Arabian Desert.  Medicine men in those areas made small incisions on the areas to be cupped.  It thus sucked bad blood from the body and helped cleanse the system of the patient.  It probably draws inspiration from the Chinese cupping methodologies of the Qing Dynasty period.

The modern technique of Chinese cupping used glass and fine plastic cups.  In the early 20th century, even common glass cups were used as vehicle for cupping therapies.  The basic principles and indications of cupping remain the same as was originally practiced in ancient China.

Today, advanced implements are being used to administer cupping.  Plastic cups with suction tubes are the commonly used implements.  Air was pumped out from the cups using the suction tubes thus providing modern practitioners more convenience.

The history of Chinese cupping is a long history of healing and innovation.  This ancient method has been proven effective against common disorders associated with the pulmonary system.