How does Chinese cupping therapy work?

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Chinese cupping is a form of Oriental healing that is believed to be around three thousand years old and from the first accounts, it is known to heal pulmonary tuberculosis. In relatively more recent times, it is mentioned in a documentation, A Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies written in 300 AD by Ge Hong, a Taoist herbalist. This form of healing therapy is non-invasive in nature and works on the Chinese surmise that ailments are caused when the “qi” or “ch’i” or the life force of the body is disrupted because of some ailment or injury. Cupping works to restore this equilibrium and thus heal the patient. This therapy takes its name from the cups that the practitioner uses to create vacuums over the affected points of the body. In a way, it is an extension of the acupressure form of treatment because it also focuses treatment on specific points on the body. For more background on the rich history of cupping or Chinese Medicine as a whole be sure to check out one of our best articles, An Overview of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

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How is the suction created?

Small cups made of glass, bamboo, iron or pottery are used to create vacuum. Materials like alcohol are either rubbed on the bottom of the cup or a cotton swab soaked in alcohol is placed in the cup. Herbs and paper can also be used. These materials are then ignited and as the fire goes out, the cup is carefully placed upside down on specific areas of the body. The cooling air inside the cup creates a vacuum that causes blood vessels directly below the skin to dilate. The cup is typically left in place for 5 to 10 minutes at a time and the therapist may choose to use several cups on different points at the same time. Patients receiving cupping therapy can be rest assured that there is rarely any burning of the skin.

How does the treatment work?

Cupping treatments are believed to act as the reverse of massage treatments. That’s because as against applying pressure on the skin, cupping uses vacuum pressure to pull it upwards using a variety of different cupping sets. Once the vacuum is created, the cup can also be moved across the skin in a procedure called sliding cupping. However, care must be taken that the sliding cup does not move over bony areas of the body such as the shoulder blades or the ridges of the spine. This therapy works by loosening muscles and stimulating blood flow to a particular region. Thus it can help relieve the stiffness of muscles and since it works to calm the nervous system, it is also used to treat a host of mental ailments. It relaxes patients and induces a sense of mental and physical peace.

What are the ailments cupping can help?

Cupping therapy can be used to lower high blood pressure; and treat rheumatism, and back and neck pain. Mental conditions such as migraines, anxiety, depression and fatigue also respond very well to the treatment. The therapy has shown to have cosmetic benefits also and can help remove cellulite and promote weight loss. Though, cosmetic treatment may also involve the application of oil before vacuum. Patients having respiratory problems such as allergies, asthma and the common cold have found that the therapy helps clear congestion and passages in the lungs. Varicose veins, gastrointestinal disorders, gynecological problems and blood disorders like anemia and hemophilia are other disorders that can be corrected using cupping therapy. Be sure to view our full list of benefits cupping has been known to provide.

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What are the types of Chinese cupping techniques?

Cupping can be of two kinds–dry cupping and wet cupping (here’s a full comparison of wet and dry cupping). Dry cupping therapy is the typical treatment in which only vacuum is used. But wet cupping goes a step further. After the cup is left on the skin for about 3 minutes, the expert therapist removes the cup and makes a series of very slight cuts on the skin using a scalpel. At times, in place of a scalpel, the therapist might also use a needle to puncture the skin to draw two or three drops of blood. Then, using a second vacuum cup, the minute quantity of blood is sucked up. The cuts or punctures are then dressed with the proper medication so that they heal quickly. The theory behind this treatment is that it eliminates toxins and unhealthy materials from the body and thus induces healing. For further information view our more detailed guide to all different types of cupping techniques.

What are the meridian lines of Chinese medicine?

meridiansChinese medicine believes that there are five meridian lines on the back of a person and these are the paths through which life energy moves through the body. This energy flows through all the veins, arteries, organs and tissues. As long as this energy flow is smooth, the person is healthy but any disruptions can cause disorders. Cupping treatment acts on up to 4 inches in depth from the surface of the skin and is thus highly beneficial. Possibly the most effective of deep tissue therapies, it can remove toxins and clear blockages. Cupping can also be used on the legs, ankles, wrists and hands. It is believed that specific points on these sections of the body correlate to the different organs inside the body that are thus healed. For more information, check out our article, Overview of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Can anyone receive treatment?

Although a non-invasive form of treatment, Chinese cupping is not recommended for pregnant or menstruating women. Patients that have bone fractures or muscle spasms also cannot be given treatments. Further, in case of patients that have a form of cancer that is spreading from one part of the body to the other, cupping is not advised. If the patient suffers from a condition because of which he/she bleeds easily or if he/she has high fever with convulsions, the therapist may refrain from providing treatment. There are certain areas of the body where cupping must not be used such as an artery, ulcer, pulse points or any part where there is evidence of deep vein thrombosis. Since cupping treatments are usually performed on the soft tissues such as the fleshy parts of the body, therapists might not provide treatment to very thin patients. It is also not viable for very obese patients.

Are there any side-effects?

Patients usually do not experience any serious side-effects except for some minor discomfort, circular bruises, swelling or slight burning. These effects are generally not painful and disappear in a few days and leave no lasting impressions. In rare cases, the patient might develop a skin infection. More on the Side Effects of Chinese Cupping Therapy.

Although cupping therapy has been used in many cultures over thousands of years, modern medicine is still skeptic about its effectiveness. Research into this form of healing is a yet inconclusive and patients are advised to use it only as a supplement to more reliable forms of treatment such as medicines and when needed surgery.


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