Cupping is one of the oldest methods of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) dating back to 300 A.D. It was first described in A Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies, written by Ge Hong, a noted Taoist herbalist. Historical texts describe the use of various types of cups including bamboo and pottery, and medicinal treatment for headaches, dizziness, respiratory illness, and abdominal pain.
Today, cupping methods vary by intensity, size of the cups, use of heat or air, cup movement, and whether or not acupuncture is combined in a treatment session. Glass or thick, clear plastic cups are preferred because they allow the practitioner to evaluate the effects of treatment.
Like acupuncture, cupping follows the lines of the meridians. There are five meridian lines on the back, and these are where the cups are usually placed. In TCM, cupping is believed to purge toxins and help to restore qi (life force energy) by opening the meridian channels so that qi flows throughout all tissues and organs to promote healing and vitality.
What Happens in a Cupping Session?
In a traditional cupping session (“dry” cupping), glass cups are warmed using a cotton ball that has been soaked in alcohol, is lit, and placed inside the cup. Burning a substance inside the cup removes all the oxygen, which creates a vacuum. Next, the practitioner turns the cup upside-down and places it over a specific area on the body. The back, chest, abdomen, and buttocks are the most common sites on which the cups are applied. The vacuum effect anchors the cup and pulls the skin upward inside the cup. Cups are left in place for 5–10 minutes (sometimes longer depending on the condition being treated). Several cups may be placed on a patient’s body at the same time. Small amounts of medicated or herbal oils may also be applied to the skin just before the cupping procedure; this allows a practitioner to move cups up and down meridians (“gliding” cupping).
In addition to “dry” cupping, some practitioners also use “wet” or “air” cupping. In “air” cupping, after the cup is applied to the skin, a suction pump is attached to the cup to create a vacuum. In “wet” cupping, the skin is punctured before treatment. When the cup is applied and the skin is drawn up, a small amount of blood may flow from the puncture site, which is believed to help remove harmful substances and toxins from the body.
What Does It Treat?
In China, cupping is used primarily to treat respiratory conditions such as bronchitis, asthma, and congestion; arthritis; gastrointestinal disorders; and for management of pain and swelling. Clinical studies are limited, though there is growing interest from researchers. For now, there isn’t conclusive data on the effects of cupping for specific health concerns.
Is Cupping Safe?
While cupping is considered relatively safe for most people, it can cause swelling and bruising on the skin where the cups were applied. Bruising may last anywhere from a few days to two weeks. You may feel sore after treatment, but this will subside within 24 hours after a session.
Cupping should not be performed on individuals with inflamed skin, high fever, or convulsions, or with persons who bleed easily or who are pregnant. It’s wise for you to learn about the credentials of any practitioner who offers cupping treatments.
Cupping, a Traditional Chinese Therapy
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