Cupping therapy is a practice that involves briefly attaching rounded inverted cups to certain parts of the body using a vacuum effect. Some proponents suggest that the drawing of the skin inside the cups increases blood flow to the area.
Long used in traditional Chinese medicine and other ancient healing systems, cupping has gained considerable popularity in recent years among athletes. For instance, swimmer Michael Phelps is said to have had the therapy in preparation for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Uses for Cupping
Cupping is often recommended as a complementary therapy for the following conditions:
- Back pain
- Headache or migraine
- Knee pain
- Muscle pain and soreness
- Neck and shoulder pain
- Sports injuries and performance
In traditional Chinese medicine, cupping is said to stimulate the flow of vital energy (also known as “qi” or “chi”) and help correct any imbalances arising from illness or injury. It’s sometimes combined with acupuncture and tuina other therapies said to promote the flow of energy.
How Does Cupping Therapy Work?
To create the suction inside the cups, the practitioner may them by placing a flammable substance (such as herbs, alcohol, and/or paper) inside each cup and then igniting that substance. Next, the practitioner places the cup upside down on the body. During a typical cupping treatment, between three and seven cups are placed on the body.
Today, many practitioners use a manual or electric pump to create the vacuum, or use self-suctioning cupping sets. After the cups are in place, they are usually removed after five to ten minutes. (Practitioners may practice “flash” cupping, by quickly attaching then removing the cup repeatedly.)
Some practitioners apply massage oil or cream and then attach silicone cups, sliding them around the body rhythmically for a massage-like effect.
In a procedure known as “wet cupping,” the skin is punctured prior to treatment. This causes blood to flow out of the punctures during the cupping procedure, which is thought to clear toxins from the body.
Possible Side Effects
Cupping may cause pain, swelling, burns, dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, skin pigmentation, and/or nausea. Cupping also leaves round purple marks or circular bruises on the skin; these marks may begin to fade after several days but can remain for two to three weeks. Scars and burns have been known to occur after cupping.
Cupping shouldn’t be done on areas where the skin is broken, irritated, or inflamed, or over arteries, veins, lymph nodes, eyes, orifices, or any fractures. Pregnant woman, children, older adults, and people with certain health conditions (such as cancer, organ failure, hemophilia, edema, blood disorders, and some types of heart disease) are among those who shouldn’t have cupping. People taking blood-thinning medication also shouldn’t try cupping.
You shouldn’t use cupping in place of standard treatment for any medical condition.