Some swear by it, some label it as pseudoscience. Nonetheless, cupping therapy has been gradually gaining more visibility with the public, especially thanks to Olympic athletes such as Michael Phelps who, at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio, sported the distinct circular bruises left from cupping. The majority of people, however, still wonder: what exactly is cupping therapy?
Cupping Therapy: The Origins
The origins of this treatment are still debated, as some believe it originated in China, while others see Ancient Egyptians as the forefathers of this method. The earliest pictorial record of cupping is to be found in the Ebers Papyrus, the oldest medical textbook in the world, where cupping was cited to be useful to cure a number of ailments and fasten the healing process.
Regardless of its origins, cupping therapy is now seen as an intrinsic part of Traditional Chinese Medicine; in China, it is extensively used even in hospitals. However, cupping is also extremely popular in Russia, Finland and in Muslim countries, as it is said that the prophet Mohammad himself praised the method – known as Hijama – as a good spiritual practice.
Hollywood celebrities have played an important role in popularising this ancient health trend, with actresses, singers and athletes such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Justin Bieber and Serena Williams praising the benefits of this treatment. According to their opinions, cupping has aided them with weight loss and recovery for overused muscles.
What is Cupping Therapy?
Cupping is the practice of creating suction on a person’s skin through the use of glass, bamboo or plastic cups in order to increase blood flow, to get rid of stagnant toxins in the body and cure pains and ailments that are afflicting the patient. It can be performed in a variety of techniques and with different tools, each targeting a different ailment or symptom. Dry cupping, fire cupping and wet cupping are amongst the most popular methods, which also include magnetic cupping and a combination of cupping and acupuncture.
In dry cupping, the practitioner positions no more than nine cups on various parts of the patient’s bod. With the aim of creating suction, the practitioner warms up the cups or uses an air pump, each resulting in a strong suction force. The material of the caps can vary, as some therapists prefer glass cups or bells to better monitor the skin; however, silicone, rubber and plastic cups are also popular choices.
As suggested by the name, fire cupping involves the use of fire to create the suction effect in the cup. Usually, the inside of the cup is heated with the aid of a candle or a cotton ball soaked in alcohol and subsequently lit. When the cup is positioned on the body and the air starts cooling down and contracting, it creates the necessary suction effect. In this case, massage oils can also be applied to the skin, allowing the glass or bamboo cup to slide over the patient’s body. This technique is often referred to as “massage cupping”.
Also known with its Arabic name hijama, wet cupping refers to the cupping technique in which a small scalpel is used to create small incisions on the patient’s skin, from which blood will be drawn once the cups are in position. This is the most popular cupping method, as it is believed that it removes toxins from the blood and acidity from the body. It has been used for centuries in Finland and it is seen as a spiritual practice in Islamic countries, where this technique is often combined with the recital of prayers and passages of the Quran.
Benefits of Cupping Therapy
Although more studies are needed, the benefits of cupping cannot be denied: it is an all-encapsulating treatment for the body and the mind. In a 2015 report published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, cupping was shown to be an effective method of treating facial paralysis, acne, herpes zoster and cervical spondylosis.
As one of the best deep-tissue therapies, cupping is often use for weight loss and to eliminate cellulite. In particular, the combination of massage cupping and acupuncture seems to be effective in helping patients to deal with these problems. Cupping is also commonly used in treatments of ailments correlated to the lungs, such as asthma and congestion caused by allergies, or blood disorders, which can vary from anaemia and high blood pressure, to varicose veins. In addition to this, cupping has also a relaxing effect on the mind, which in turn provides a valuable help to anxiety and depression sufferers.
Dangers of Cupping
If performed by a professional therapist, cupping has few side effects on the body, the most common being bruising. In more serious cases, however, cupping could potentially lead to burns and skin infections.
Therefore, do the benefits outweigh the dangers? That is for each person to decide. If you are considering undergoing cupping therapy, please be sure to consult a GP beforehand, and always check the credentials of your chosen therapist.
Have you ever had cupping therapy? What was your experience? Do you practice cupping therapy on people? What words of advice would you give? Let us know in the comments down below, or get in touch via Facebook or Twitter.