cupping therapy

Cupping is the process of increasing blood flow in a particular area of the skin by placing specially made cups on the relevant portion and heating it up. Cupping is adopted as an alternate therapy to relieve pain without using medicines.

Origin of cupping

Cupping has been in therapeutic use since more than thousands of years presumed to have been originated from Iran. Cupping was used by ancient Persian medicine practitioners to evacuate morbid materials from the specified organs. Traditional Chinese medicine also used cupping to cure cold, bronchitis and pneumonia. This method of treatment was practiced by Arabs and Egyptians since ancient times.

British cupping society has observed that cupping can be a method of treatment to cure a number of health disorders which include anemia, blood pressure, skin disorders like acne, migraines, rheumatic arthritis, asthma, bronchitis and varicose veins.

This type of therapy is now spreading to most parts of the world.

What are the cups made of?

Special cups used for cupping are made from bamboo, bronze, copper, glass and plastic. Ancient Egyptians used horns from animals for cupping.

Types of cupping

There are four types of cupping practiced. They are dry cupping, wet cupping, fire cupping and the traditional method of cupping.

Different technologies are used in each type or method of cupping based on the region and experience of the practitioners.

How is cupping done?

Cupping involves suction. The specially designed cup is placed on the relevant area of the skin and vacuum is created in the region by adopting different types of suction methods. When vacuum is created and suction takes place negative pressure is produced on the particular area facilitating pulling up of the blood vessels.

We may attempt to understand the process of cupping and various types of cupping and the instruments and technologies used. But there is no scientific explanation or proof available to confirm that this particular form of therapy provides the claimed health benefits.

Why Cupping?

Like many other forms of traditional medicine, cupping is also a therapeutic tool believed to provide some health benefits. In recent times alternative medicine therapy is becoming increasingly popular. People all over the world tend to use such alternative medicine therapies mainly because they do not involve consumption of any medicine orally. Moreover due to the side effects experienced by usage of medicines, alternative therapy like cupping is considered to be safer treatment for some of the ailments.

The process and technology involved in each type of cupping is distinctly different. Here again, the methods and cups used differ from region to region based on their traditional practice.

Dry cupping

In this method the cup used for treatment is put on fire with some inflammable materials like herbs or alcohol. Even as the cub is on fire it is placed on the particular area of the skin so as to allow the flames to subside. By doing so the inside of the cup create a vacuum once it cools down in the space inside the cup and bring about the required physical changes on that particular region of the body. The cooled cup with vacuum inside is kept in the place for a few minutes in order to raise the skin and make the blood vessels under the skin to expand caused by the negative pressure exerted on it.

 Later on therapists have started using a suction pump to create vacuum instead of firing the outer surface of the cup to create vacuum. Subsequently silicon cups were also used to enable smooth moving of the cup on different areas of the skin to produce a massaging effect. Usage of just fire cups or suction pumps also depend on the practitioner of the therapy. There is no thumb rule commonly adopted by all the practitioners.

Generally this type is preferred in the case of soft skin areas of the body only. Depending upon the nature of the disorder the cup may be retained on the skin for more time, say up to fifteen or twenty minutes. Some therapists may use certain lubricants on the skin before commencing the process to facilitate smooth movement of the cups from one area to the other.

Wet cupping

Wet cupping involves piercing the skin by making a few scratches and then sucking some blood from the area. Opening of the skin is done after the completion of the dry cupping process. Using more than one cup at the same time by placing the cups in different spots of the skin is also done in order to quicken the process of recovery. After removing the cups and after making pricks in the skin ointments are used to cure the scratches on the skin. By doing wet cupping, it is believed that the treatment removes toxins and harmful substances circulating in the body through the area of treatment on account of suction. That the process is helpful in removing unwanted substances or toxins is only presumed without any scientific evidence.

Massage cupping

This type of cupping is practiced with the use of silicon cups which are glided in the skin surface so as to cover a large area at the same time. Silicon cups are used in the place of glass or metal cups as silicon cups are smoother and flexible which facilitates easier movement on the skin. In the normal pain relief massaging activity, pressure is applied on the particular portion of the body. But when massage cupping is used it creates negative pressure by sucking the skin and increasing the blood flow and consequently reducing the pain in the particular area. It also activates the overall nervous system even while relaxing the body.

Health benefits of cupping

While all types of cupping are essentially aimed at reducing pain, some of the specific benefits of cupping therapy are significant in improving the health conditions of a person.

Lung disorders

Disorders in the lungs including cough, cold, asthma and bronchitis  are treated

Most types of muscle pains, paralysis of the arms and limbs and digestive disorders or intestinal tract disorders are also treated with cupping.

Nerve stiffness

By removing certain obstructions in the blood vessels cupping prevents damages to the muscle and nerves. By doing this it reduces weakness and remove fatigue from the body. Stiffness experienced in the nerves are removed by the suction process involved in the cupping therapy.

Dermatology

This alternative therapy is found to be useful in dermatology. Many of the skin disorders are caused due to impurities in the blood. By adopting cupping therapy such blood related skin disorders like acne, herpes, boils, pimples and abscess can be treated.

The process removes bad blood from the body along with accumulated impurities and help in improving the health of the skin besides curing the blood related disorders.  Before the advent of modern medicine, practitioners of traditional medicine have used various methods of removing impure blood from the body and cupping was one such method practiced. Even as the suction process sucks bad blood it also removes toxins from the blood through the skin surface. It is considered that cupping has the ability to release the stagnant and congested blood which causes many health disorders including skin related diseases.

Blood circulation

Overall blood circulation in the body is improved by different methods of cupping. As the blood flow balances, the blood pressure is also maintained at the desired level which protects the body from a number of ailments. By stabilizing the blood pressure cupping improves the functioning of the heart and prevents heart diseases. Moreover, when blood circulation improves inflammations and swellings in the body are also prevented and also cured if the disorders are already there.

Joint pain and inflammation

Cupping therapy is adopted to get relieved from disorders caused due to rheumatism. Joint pains, inflammation, swelling and arthritis associated with rheumatism can be cured by appropriate cupping method. This benefit accrues from improvement of elasticity of muscles due to cupping. In addition to enhancing the flexibility of the joints, flow of the synovial fluid is increased which is essential to keep the joints function properly without friction.

Depression and anxiety

Cupping therapy is helpful in relaxing the body and also keep the body energetic at all times. The important benefit of such relaxation is reduction in anxiety and depression. This is possible as the therapy not only relaxes the muscles but also enhances transmission to the brain which reduces anxiety and depression. Problems associated with emotions of humans like headaches, epilepsy and depression are significantly reduced by this therapy.

Immune system

Performance of the immune system of the body is enhanced by cupping as it improves the blood flow along with lymphatic fluid throughout the body. Improved functioning of the immune system is essential to prevent a number of ailments like respiratory disorders, gastrointestinal problems, common cold and fever.

Side effects?

In spite of lack of research based reports that confirm the usefulness or effectiveness of the cupping therapy, the general perception is that an experienced and well versed cupping therapy practitioner can provide the required relief to the patient. The fact remains that there is equally no evidence that suggests that this therapy is detrimental to health. Modern day practitioners adopt hygienic conditions and sterile conditions in order to ensure that the patient do not feel uncomfortable and to eliminate the possibility of any side effect due to cupping treatment.

This type of therapy is not generally conducted on certain special persons like pregnant women, menstruating women, patients who suffer due to certain disorders like varicose veins etc.,

Note: Cupping is not a home remedy that can be practiced by the patients themselves without consulting a practitioner. Anyone wanting to try this therapy for any relief has to necessarily consult a practitioner and seek medical advice.

Ramya Srinivasan, PDGBA, earned her Master’s degree in Business. As a result of her passion in native medicine, she got her Diploma in Traditional Siddha Medicine from Bharat Sevak Samaj registered under the Indian Planning Commission. She is certified by Stanford University School of Medicine in Introduction to Food and Health.