Cupping

There are many modalities that fall under the umbrella of Chinese medicine. Acupuncture, Chinese herbs, tui na (Chinese therapeutic massage), moxibustion (the burning of the Chinese herb Artemesia), auricular acupuncture (acupuncture of the ear), gua sha (scraping) and cupping are all the modalities of Chinese medicine and the tools that the TCM practitioner uses to rebalance and heal their patients.

Cupping is a little discussed (outside Chinese medicine circles) but much-loved practice by both practitioners and patients. Even though the results may look a bit alarming, it is painless and in fact, a very relaxing treatment and many of my patients request cupping when they are feeling stressed out or “wound up” because it helps them to unwind and relax. Cupping has many health benefits, which make it an invaluable part of the expansive toolbox that is Chinese medicine.

What Does Cupping Treat?

At the heart of Chinese medicine theory is the concept of “Qi”. Qi can be described in many ways, energy, life force, prana… and all would be correct. It is the force that brings things to life and must be kept moving for us to be healthy. Each one of us has Qi. It is a close partner of blood and the two work together to keep things circulating throughout the body. If our Qi is abundant and moving smoothly, then we are healthy. However, if Qi becomes blocked, or “stagnant” then illness can occur. Diseases in Chinese medicine are seen as blockages of Qi, and often the longer the Qi has been blocked, the more severe the illness is seen to be. So, one of the main goals of all Chinese medicine modalities, including cupping is to move Qi. There are specific things, though, that cupping treats very well. They are listed below.

Cupping Treats the Following Conditions

  • Pain in the back, neck, legs and arms
  • Colds & flu
  • Detoxification
  • Inflammation
  • Respiratory illnesses – bronchitis, asthma, cough
  • Digestive problems – stomachaches, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • High blood pressure
  • Cellulite
  • Migraines
  • Edema (swelling)
  • Arthritis

How Does Cupping Work?

Chinese Bamboo Cupping : Chinese Medicine LivingBamboo Cups
this lovely image from ameliaislandmassages.com

There are different kinds of cups, the traditional type being made of bamboo, and the modern type usually made of glass. A cotton ball soaked in alcohol is lit on fire and placed briefly into the glass cup to heat the air inside. It is then immediately placed on the skin, the heat creating a suction. The skin and first layers of connective tissue and muscles are lifted into the cup, and a mark is usually formed, from a light red to a deep, dark purple. The cups are left on anywhere from a few minutes to 30 minutes depending on what is being treated. The theory is that the darker the mark left by the cup, the more toxins and stagnation are in the area being treated. The cups come in different sizes and are indicated for large muscle groups like the back, upper thighs and sometimes, the abdomen. The suction created inside the cup can be from heat (this is sometimes called fire cupping), or there are plastic cups that use a manual pump to suck out the air while they are sitting on the skin. The cups can also be moved, with the application of oil to the skin, along meridians or large muscle groups which have a distinct “massage-like” feel for the patient.

Cupping is used to relieve pain, remove heat, increase circulation and pull toxins out of the body. It is also excellent for digestive problems like stomach aches, vomiting, and diarrhea as well as respiratory problems like coughing and asthma. Cupping is an amazing modality for warming, dredging the meridians (where there is often blocked or “stagnant” Qi) and moving Qi and blood. Despite how the results may look, it happens to be incredibly relaxing and is like having a warming massage. The effect, in fact, is like having a reverse massage with the cups pulling up on skin and muscles, instead of applying pressure downwards. The red marks left are often used to diagnose the severity of the stagnation of Qi and blood or toxicity, and although they can look severe, they are painless and go away in a day or two.

How Does Cupping Work? : Chinese Medicine LivingGlass “Fire” Cupping
this helpful image from hoylasnoticias.com

Contraindications

There are several things that you want to look out for before you try cupping. You do not want to do cupping over areas of broken skin or rashes, edema (swelling), areas where there are large blood vessels, or if you have a high fever with convulsions. Also, pregnant women should never have cupping on the abdominal and sacral area. Cupping is also not appropriate if you have a bleeding disorder.

In conclusion, cupping is a wonderfully therapeutic treatment and one that patients always really love. It is warming to the muscles, and the sensation of the skin and muscles being pulled up into the cup is unique and relaxing as well as detoxifying. Cupping keeps Qi and blood flowing smoothly inside the body, which is the key to ultimate health. If you have never tried it, you definitely should. The marks it leaves behind are also always a great conversation starter!

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