For many people, September is a time for change. Back to school, the seasons are changing and you may want set a health goal or try something new to help you feel better. Something new you could try is an aspect of Traditional Chinese Medicine known as cupping. On the heels of the Olympics in Rio, we saw just how many athletes, including Gold medal winner Michael Phelps, are using this ancient therapy to improve performance and feel better. Better health is something everyone wants – why not try this amazing technique. It can provide numerous health benefits which I will discuss here.
One way to think about cupping is like an inverse massage. Rather than applying pressure to muscles and fascia, the suction (created by pumps or flame) uses pressure to pull the skin, tissue and muscles upward. I will often combine cupping and acupuncture is the same treatment, but it can also be done alone or with TuiNa (Chinese Massage).
Cupping was developed many thousands of years ago. Evidence of cupping exists in many different cultures including ancient Chinese, Native American, Greek and Egyptian societies. Although some of the techniques have changed and some of the tools have been modernized the theory behind it remains unchanged. Hippocrates, the “Father of Modern Medicine”, is said to have used cupping and it is mentioned in his guide to clinical treatment.
Cupping involves placing glass, bamboo or plastic cups on the skin and creating a vacuum by suctioning out the air. I use sterile glass cups in my office that are each crafted with a valve that at suction pump attaches to. The underlying tissue is sucked into the cup and can look quite bizarre to someone who has never seen it done. The purpose of cupping is to enhance circulation, relieve pain and removes toxins that linger in your body’s tissue. It can also help with respiratory complaints, especially when done over the lungs.
A tight, pulling sensation is often reported in the area that is cupped. It should not be painful. Some people find the treatments relaxing, comforting and soothing. The cups may be moved around (sliding cups) over some lubricant or left in place (stationary cups). The can stay in place a very short amount of time (quick cups) or up to 10 minutes. Each treatment is unique to your circumstances on that day. Areas that can be cupped include the back, traps, between the scapulae, lumbar area, hamstrings, calves and even the soles the feet (good for plantar fasciitis). Cupping over the abdomen can also be beneficialfor constipation.
Cups generally do leave a mark. The skin temporarily turns red, purple or or blue especially if there is a lot of tension or stagnation under the area or if an energetic blockage that needs to be addressed. The marks are rarely painful. Once the marks have gone away it is safe to repeat the treatment until the problem has resolved.
Celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow all are faithful fans of cupping. Athletes use cupping as a secret weapon. Many Olympic swimmers use cupping to retain that competitive edge and to restore muscles to optimum firing capability after a particularly grueling training session. Cupping is not just for swimmers though – ballet dancers, tennis players, baseball players, runners, and many other types of athletes have all turned to cupping to relieve stiffness and help address different issues and injuries.
Cupping helps stimulate the flow of fresh blood, lymph and Qi to the affected area and throughout the body. If often works well on patients who have recently come down with a cold, or what we in the acupuncture world might call a “Wind Cold Invasion”. This type of treatment needs to be done right at the first onset of symptoms to be beneficial. Remember to always keep the area covered after treatment. So, if you have something big planned and you can’t afford to be getting sick, give me a call and we can do some cupping that day to see if we can curb the cold before it develops.
It should be noted that cupping should be done only by qualified and licensed professionals. This is not something to try at home with a random kitchen glass! It could result in serious injury so please always call a professional if you are interested in cupping.