Cupping involves placing cups on the skin to create suction. This suction is thought to improve the flow of energy in the body and facilitate healing.
Although Chinese medicine incorporates cupping therapy into treatments, cupping therapy may not have originated in China.
One of the oldest medical texts to mention cupping therapy is Eber’s papyrus (1550 B.C.) from Ancient Egypt, though cupping is a part of many ancient healing systems, including Chinese, Unani, traditional Korean, and Tibetan.
Greek physician Hippocrates, often referred to as the “father” of medicine, even compiled descriptions of cupping techniques.
Cupping increases blood circulation to the area where the cups are placed. This may relieve muscle tension, which can improve overall blood flow and promote cell repair. It may also help form new connective tissues and create new blood vessels in the tissue.
Chinese cupping therapy diagnoses different pathologies of the body by the manifestation of blood in the skin tissue. These marks should not be describes as bruises as they are not.
The different pathologies are:
Blood congestion & toxins
Blood & Qi Deficiency
White/Grey skin pallor – Qi Deficiency
Blue/Mauve – Cold Deficient (from Blood Deficiency)
Purple/Blackish – Blood Stagnation
Blisters – excess Damp & Toxins
Yellow exudation left in cup – Phlegm excess
Speckling, pupura, patches – toxins & disease
There is a growing body of research digging into how and why cupping may work.
A 2018 review of studies noted that cupping therapy has reported benefits for a variety of conditions that can be categorized as either localized or systematic diseases.
Cupping is thought to alleviate symptoms by promoting peripheral (close to the skin) blood circulation and improving immunity.
According to the 2018 review, the effects of cupping therapy include:
* promoting the skin’s blood flow
* changing the skin’s biomechanical properties
* increasing pain thresholds
* improving local anaerobic (without oxygen) metabolism
* reducing inflammation
* boosting cellular immunity
According to a 2017 study, the mechanical effect of cupping increases local blood flow and stretches underlying tissue.
Activation of Heme oxygenase-1, a gene that plays a critical role in the prevention of vascular inflammation, could account for many of cupping therapy’s claimed local and systemic health benefits.
A 2019 studynoted that no single theory exists to explain the whole effects of cupping, but some theories include:
* altering pain signal processing
* using counter-irritation, or pain to reduce pain
* stimulating increased blood circulation through the release of nitric oxide
* stimulating the immune system with artificial local inflammation
* increasing the level of immune products, such as interferon and tumor necrotizing factor
* increasing the flow of lymph in the lymphatic system
* decreasing uric acid and both types of cholesterol
* changing the molecular structure and function of hemoglobin (Hb)
Despite multiple theories, more quality research is needed to confirm the effects of cupping as well as the mechanisms by which they may or may not support healing.
There are four main categories of cupping performed today:
1/ Dry cupping: a suction-only method
2/ Wet/bleeding cupping: may involve both suction and controlled medicinal bleeding
3/ Running cupping: involves moving suctioned cups around the body after applying oil to massage the desired area
4/ Flash cupping: involves quick, repeated suction and release of cups on an area of the body