An ancient Chinese medicine procedure, cupping therapy involves the application of rounded cups over a part of the body. The cups are placed upside-down on the skin and a suction effect holds them to the skin. The suction causes a stimulating effect on the flow of blood and energy in the treated part of the body.
The Uses of Cupping Therapy
In general, cupping therapy is used to alleviate various kinds of ailments like muscle soreness and pain, inflammation, and to accelerate the self healing process of the body.
For the last decade, cupping has become wildly popular in the world of sports for the healing and recovery of stiff joints and sore muscles among others.
Swimmer Michael Phelps is one of the more high profile athletes who have had the procedure prior to performing in the Rio Olympics.
According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), cupping activates the circulation of qi or chi (vital energy) and helps rectify imbalances caused by an injury or illness. Several TCM practitioners combine cupping with Chinese massage (Tui Na) and/or acupuncture, the other TCM modalities utilized to stimulate or activate acupuncture points.
What Occurs During a Cupping Therapy Procedure?
During a cupping procedure, a TCM healer may put into a cup, alcohol or herbs and then light up that substance. As the flame slowly burns out, the healer rapidly places the cup upside-down on the body where energy channels connected to the ailment are located in order to treat the ailment.
The procedure can also be administered through the use of an electrical or mechanical vacuum pump. The cup is attached to the pump and placed upside down on the skin while the pump is turned on to generate the suction.
For about five to ten minutes, the cups are left attached to the body causing the blood vessels to dilate and strengthen blood and qi flow. The other benefits of cupping include the opening up of the pores of the skin and the detoxification of the body.
In another cupping technique called “wet cupping,” the practitioner punctures the skin before the cups are applied to the skin. This causes some bleeding which is believed to help remove toxins from the body quickly and much more efficiently during the cupping procedure.
Does Cupping Really Work?
Currently, only poor quality clinical studies have been done to scientifically test the benefits of cupping therapy for any health condition.
A 2009 review, for example, assessed seven clinical trials that tested whether cupping therapy can improve the conditions of patient suffering from cancer pain and low back pain; although the results showed significant improvements from the patients treated with cupping therapy, the reviewers did not find the proof adequate enough of the treatment’s efficacy, because according to them, the studies were of poor quality.
In 2010, another study review was published that showed researchers analyzing five studies that used cupping therapy for stroke rehabilitation. Two of the studies reveal that cupping provided certain benefits to stroke patients like strengthening the muscles and alleviating shoulder pain; however the authors of the review still saw that cupping was not effective enough in stroke rehabilitation.
Possible Side Effects
The side effects of cupping therapy may include swelling, pain, and in some cases, burn. The procedure can also leave circular bruises or round purple marks on the skin; after several days, these marks start to diminish although they may remain on the skin for two weeks or more.
Cupping treatment shouldn’t be administered on parts of the body where the skin is inflamed, irritated, or broken.
Some of the rare after effects that can occur from this procedure include skin pigmentation, panniculitis, keloids, iron deficiency anemia, thrombocytopenia, and acquired hemophilia A.
Despite the fact that clinical studies have failed to sufficiently prove the efficacy of cupping in treating ailments, more and more people are willing to try it due mainly after seeing movie and TV celebrities, like Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston and high-profile Olympic athletes like Michael Phelps sporting the trademark purple bruises of cupping. Before trying out the therapy, be sure to first talk to your doctor or primary healthcare provider to discuss whether it’s appropriate for you and to weigh the pros and cons of the treatment.
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