Cupping therapy is a CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) treatment.
What is Cupping?
In cupping therapy, cups of earthenware, glass, or bamboo are placed on the skin to create suction so that blood flow is mobilized to promote healing of ailments. Ancient Middle Eastern, Egyptian, and Chinese cultures used cupping. There are a couple of types of cupping therapy, including wet cupping and dry cupping. With dry cupping, only suction is used, and wet cupping combines suction and “controlled medicinal bleeding”. Both types of cupping use alcohol, papers, or herbs as a flammable substance that is placed on the cup and set on fire. When the fire goes out, the cup is put on the patient’s skin, upside down. The cooling air creates a vacuum effect, making the skin redden and rise. The cup is left there for about 10 minutes. In modern cupping, a rubber pump created the suction, sometimes with “medical-grade silicone cups”. By moving them from place to place, they “produce a massage-like effect”.1 Cupping not only has relation to massage techniques, it is also used by some practitioners on acupuncture points. The therapy is also similar to moxibustion therapy. Bruising is expected after the treatment.2
Does Cupping Therapy Work?
The American Cancer Society and other Western medical organizations are skeptical about cupping for curing diseases due to the “anecdotal (reports) rather than…research studies”. However, the journal PLoS ONE published a 2012 study that suggested that cupping “may have more than a placebo effect”. When combined with medications or acupuncture for acne, facial paralysis, herpes zoster, and cervical spondylosis, cupping might be effective.3 There are some studies that say cupping, combined with acupuncture, can help reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia better than medications (ex. amitriptyline). It is thought that cupping stimulates qi (chi), the body’s energy.4 The treatment follows the meridians, like acupuncture. It is considered a deep tissue therapy. Cupping can be used to alleviate neck pain, back pain, fatigue, migraines, anxiety, stiff muscles, and more. Some suggest it can help with weight loss and for treating cellulite. This therapy may release toxins and clear blockages. It is thought that cupping can also control asthma and clear congestion or other respiratory conditions.5 Some athletes also use cupping to address stiffness and injury and improve health. It is contraindicated, however, in patients who bleed easily, have edema, or who have skin ulcers. Cupping should not be performed on the abdomen or lower back of pregnant women, who should also use caution with this therapy, overall.6
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