Are you also one of those who are curious about cupping therapy? You might see it on the news that there are athletes and celebrities undergoing cupping therapy. And, among those famous people that draw our attention towards cupping is Micheal Phelps, who truly make a buzz about this therapy in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

If you haven’t tried cupping yet and want to discover more about it. You may truly be curious about its benefits and why it is leaving some red marks or bruises – this post is for you.

What is Cupping Therapy?

Cupping is an ancient form of alternative medicine which have been documented to be used in early Egyptian and Chinese medicine. Although there’s no exact origin of where it started but based on the Journal of Integrative Medicine in a narrative review of literature for the history of cupping, it falls out to be in favor in the 17th and mid 18th centuries and recovered its popularity in the modern medicine.

But, what exactly is cupping therapy? Based on the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, cupping is a practice being used in traditional medicine in various parts of the world such as in China and the Middle East. It involves the use of cups that creates suction in the skin. The cups used can be glass, ceramic, bamboo, or plastic cup. By applying the flame in the cup in order to remove oxygen or by attaching a suction device in the skin creating a negative pressure.

How Cupping Therapy Works

To define how cupping therapy works may vary based on the way it is applied. Cupping therapy can be classified into dry cupping and wet cupping.

Dry cupping

Dry cupping does not involve bloodletting or skin piercing which can be applied using a vacuum created with fire or by the vacuum created by manual or suction cups. It’s a non-invasive type of treatment.  As stated in the article: Cupping therapy: A prudent remedy for a plethora of medical ailments (2015). It is a technique of bruising skin painlessly.

As the cup and its inner air cool down, the suction is created. This part will raise your skin up from that part and redden it because your blood vessels expand. The cup is usually placed in an area for about 5-10 minutes in an upside-down position. Some therapists also use the modern rubber pump method instead of fire to create a vacuum in the cup. Silicone cups have the benefit that they can move on your body by maintaining the vacuum and provide you with a massage-like feeling.

Cupping Therapy: A Closer Look

Wet cupping

Wet cupping on the other hand is an invasive type of treatment that involves skin piercing or bloodletting and the blood flows inside the cup. The therapist first places the cup and creates suction at an area of your skin for about 3 minutes. In the next step, he removes the cup and makes a small cut on your skin, and again makes suction by the cup to draw a small quantity of blood from that area.

Both of the above classification cuppings can leave temporary marks on the skin.  In a Journal of Complementary Medicine and Alternative Healthcare, cupping marks in Oriental medicine is used in creating a various diagnosis. And on the figure 1 is a chart of cupping marks in Oriental medicine and their indications.

In an article published in the Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies entitled Cupping Therapy: An Overview from a Modern Medicine Perspective, it was highlighted that in 2013, it was categorized into 5 categories and updated into 6 categories in 2016. But this article proposed to update the classification of cupping therapy into 5 categories as shown below. It aims to provide a precise classification of cupping therapy.

Cupping Therapy: A Closer Look

Classification of cupping therapy types

Does it work?

There are some evidence-based on recent studies about the benefits of cupping.  However, there is still the need to have enough high-quality research in order to come up with a conclusion about whether cupping therapy is helpful for other conditions.

Various studies on cupping therapy have been assessed and analyzed to see its effectiveness, among the examples are:

    • Cupping for Treating Pain: A Systematic Review– provides an assessment of the evidence of cupping therapy as a treatment for pain. The researches show a positive impact of Cupping therapy in treating pain, however, the number of trial and sample size is too small.
    • Cupping therapy and chronic back pain: systematic review and meta-analysis – another study that analyzes the evidence on cupping therapy for treating chronic back pain. It shows that it has a positive outcome when it comes to treating chronic back pain. Wherein a significant reduction in the pain intensity score has been identified (p = 0.001). However, there is a need to establish standardized application protocols and it has limited findings.
    • Is cupping therapy effective in patients with neck pain? A systematic review and meta-analysis– provides systematic and meta-analysis on the existing evidence of cupping therapy in treating neck pain. Eighteen studies were selected and show that the application of cupping therapy can reduce neck pain compared to the no intervention group. However, significant-conclusion cannot still be drawn, well-designed studies are still needed to further see the effectiveness of cupping therapy.

An article featured in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine highlighted the effects and mechanism of cupping therapy. It is indicated that there is growing evidence of using cupping therapy for treating musculoskeletal pain, low back pain, neck pain, fibromyalgia, and other painful condition, however, there is a call for large randomized trials.

Is it Safe?

To ensure safety when getting cupping therapy, it is essential that you asked for a licensed and experienced therapist. The reddish skin or tiny cuts signs will be diminished within 10 days after therapy, and the antibacterial ointment and bandage after therapy will ensure your safety from any kind of infection.

You can face mild discomfort, burns, bruises, and skin infection in the area where the cup created suction during therapy, but these signs will fade away within some days. Be sure that you are going to seek professional help.  Also, unsafe practices such as not having a thoroughly sterilize cup or using the same equipment between patients may cause bloodborne diseases such as hepatitis B and C. Also based on NCCIH there are rare severe cases of side effects that have been reported.

Asking for a licensed and well-experienced therapist is essential for the safety of cupping therapy procedures.

A Closer Look at Evergreen’s Rehab and Wellness Cupping Therapy : Non-invasive Treatment

Fire Cupping

A therapist will utilize the flame which will go inside a cup (wherein at Evergreen we used a glass cup) which creates a vacuum on the inside and placed in the skin. As the heat evaporates, it creates an intense suction that pulls upward at the muscle and connective tissue. A unique way of relieving stress and take note that this is non-invasive.

Below is one of our acupuncturists, David Ha applying the fire cupping technique on our patient’s paraspinal muscles. The number of cups applied will depend on your condition.

Cupping Therapy: A Closer Look

Then after the fire cupping, David pulls them out (with a popping sound) and you will notice that it will leave some red or bruising marks. These are indicative of how your blood circulation in your body, the darker you’ve got the poor circulation is going on.

Cupping Therapy: A Closer Look

The Cupping Marks left on the patient’s back.

Movable or Moving Cupping

Another technique showcase on dry cupping is the application of movable or moving cupping. Also known as gliding cupping, the material used is the same as fire cupping, the differences are that lesser cups are used and glides within a trigger point or over the body. It helps to massage the muscles. It’s a way to treat digestion, inflammation, and congestion.

Cupping Therapy: A Closer Look

David Ha, applying movable cupping on bladder meridians, glides two cups.

Flash Cupping

Flash cupping is another type of cupping technique that involves the use of a cup being heated up and quickly and repeatedly applied to triggers points. As its name suggests there is only quick retention of cups involved.

Cupping Therapy: A Closer Look

Successive Flash Cupping on rhomboids and mid-scapular region

This treatment can be combined with natural treatments like acupuncture.

Is Cupping Therapy Right for Me?

Based on the book, Traditional Chinese Medicine Cupping Therapy it was noted that cupping is not ideal for the following:

  • With extreme fluid deficient
  • Having suspected hemorrhage of any kind
  • With tumors of any forms
  • Tuberculosis
  • Suffered cardiac arrest for the past 6 months
  • Hemophilia
  • With extreme anemia
  • All Stages of acute infectious conditions and diseases

When dealing with sports injuries, it is also contraindicated to the following conditions:

  • Open Wound
  • Inflamed or infected tissue
  • Bleeding injury
  • Fracture
  • Grade III muscle or ligament sprain
  • Tendon Rupture

The author also highlighted that cupping therapy must be applied with precaution for treating patients with anticoagulant drugs or who have an empty stomach. Also, it is not applicable to the eyes, sunburn or burns, open wounds, or in recent trauma. Cupping therapy is not ideal for application to the lower or upper abdomen of a pregnant.

It is always essential to consult a professional therapist to know if your condition is right for cupping therapy.

A quick tip, before going to your therapy session make sure that you eat something since blood will move around the body and if you get low blood sugar, it can make you feel a bit dizzy.

What to do after cupping?

There are some care tips that you should execute after getting cupping therapy. You should drink a lot of water as it helps you flush out all the toxins from your blood that comes out from the tissues through cupping. Try to stay warm and cover the area where you received cupping and rest for a while.

Cupping therapy will release muscle tension and provide you with a sense of flexibility and strength. If you also want to get all the benefits of cupping therapy, you can keep your mind in peace and look for a professional cupping therapist.

Want to get cupped up?

At Evergreen Rehab and Wellness, we ensure that you are an ideal cupping therapy and we always start each session with a thorough assessment. Getting to know about your condition is vital to us. The application of treatment must refer to the patient’s needs.  You may book online here.

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