Developed thousands of years ago, the ancient form of alternative medicine known as “cupping” is still popular today. In this article, we will discuss the different methods of cupping, the health benefits they can provide, and touch on a couple of scientific studies looking into the effects of the ancient art of cupping.
The art of cupping involves using special cups, often made today from glass, bamboo or plastic, to create suction on the skin. Cups are placed in specific places on the skin for a few minutes at a time, creating a pressure that is believed to help with pain, inflammation, blood flow, and well-being. Fire cupping, air cupping, and wet cupping are just a few of the many variations of the practice that are still used today, for an array of conditions such as skin conditions, migraines, anxiety, and depression.
Although cupping may be a popular choice of alternative medicine today, it’s not a modern technique. Dating back to ancient Chinese, Egyptian and Middle Eastern cultures; the practice was first documented in the Ebers Papyrus, one of the oldest medical textbooks in the world, in 1,550 BC. Originally a hollowed-out animal horn was often used as the cup, which is referred to today as the Horn Method. The horns were first documented as tools used to treat snakebites and boils, being used to suck out the toxins from the infected area. Later, cupping was documented by the Chinese as being used in surgery, helping to divert the blood flow from the surgery site, in hope to encourage minimal blood loss. By the 18th century, cupping had spread across Europe and was commonly used by doctors and health professionals as a treatment for illnesses such as the common cold and chest infections, often been carried out using the method of wet cupping. Slowly evolving from horns to bamboo cups, to glass, the original technique of cupping is still used to this day.
Cupping is used today as a form of massage therapy. This therapeutic treatment involves placing heated cups, often made from glass, onto the body. Often placed upon the back, neck, and shoulders, the heated cup creates a vacuum effect, which is thought to increase blood flow in the surrounding areas. Temporary bruising can be left behind on occasion, dependent on how long the cups are left on the skin and the degree of suction that is carried out. Surprisingly, this can be seen by some as a preferred outcome, as it is thought of as proof that the treatment has worked successfully.
To practice fire cupping, an alcohol soaked cotton ball is set alight and quickly put inside the cup, just for a few seconds. As soon as the cotton ball is removed, the cup is placed in contact with the skin creating the suction effect as the air inside the cup quickly cools. Although this method is one of the more traditional forms of the cupping practice, it is still a favourable technique for some, even today. Massage oil can be used on the skin before placing the cup down, which allows for the cup to be slid across the skin, consequently massaging different muscle groups.
Air cupping, an alternative to fire cupping, is a more modern technology that is used widely today. Instead of using heat to remove air from the cup, a suction pump is used to remove the air, creating a vacuum on the skin without the use of heat. Some modern research suggests that this technique can be more comfortable for patients, which is no surprise considering “fire cupping” doesn’t sound like the most relaxing form of the therapy.
When practising wet cupping, a type of acupuncture is used alongside the cupping, resulting in the process often being referred to as “bleeding with cupping”. Acupuncture needs are used to prick the skin on certain areas of the body before a cup is placed on top. The method works in a similar way and is designed to dispel toxins from within the body. People that partake in wet cupping believe that using the cups to draw a small amount of blood increases the effects of the cupping practice.
Although traditionally used to treat lung disorders such asthma, today cupping is more commonly used o benefit local pain in the body, as well as aiding muscle relaxation when used in the form of massage. In addition to using cupping to treat specific ailments and injury throughout the body, cupping can also be used to improve overall health, working by removing energy blockages throughout the body. Today, cupping is widely used by athletes to help reduce pain by increasing blood flow to a particular muscle group.
Proven or Placebo?
It remains unclear whether cupping therapy is a form of alternative medicine proven to truly work as the amount of existing scientific studies on the subject is limited. A report published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, suggests that cupping could help with acne, herpes zoster and pain management, but the ins and outs of the study remain unclear. This certainly doesn’t stop people from giving the method a go though, and when used alongside other treatments, some believe that it has great results.
In summary, it seems to be down to peoples’ personal beliefs in whether cupping is an effective form of alternative medicine, but seeing as the ancient art is still used to this day, it’s clear that some people definitely believe in the healing powers of the cups. To find out for yourself, all you can do is try it and see the results.
Yoga is a fantastic wellness exercise that goes hand-in-hand with Cupping Therapy. When practising yoga, always ensure you’re wearing the appropriate workout gear, including a yoga vest or yoga tank top and yoga leggings. You should also have a comfortable yoga mat to ensure a relaxed and healthy workout.