Cupping is an age-old technique used in traditional Chinese medicine to stimulate acupuncture points or larger areas of the body. Cupping is often practised alongside acupuncture but can also be used as a treatment in its own right.
Cups are rounded and can be made of rubber, glass or occasionally bamboo. The ancient method of cupping was to heat up the cup, known as ‘fire cups’ and place it quickly on the body. However many practitioners today use cups with rubber ends, and when placed onto the skin and squeezed causes a vacuum inside the cup where the underlying tissue is raised, or sucked, partway into the cup. The cup is left in place for anything up to 20 minutes. The practitioner will often use several cups in one treatment.
The purpose of cupping is to enhance circulation, and help relieve pain. This is what the ancient Chinese would call stagnation. However the old ancients also used it for removing "heat" and pull out the toxins that linger in your body's tissues. You could think of cupping as a Chinese version of massage. Rather than applying pressure to muscles as you do with massage, the suction uses pressure to pull skin, tissue and muscles upward. This is sometimes preferable in patients who are very sensitive.
Cupping is not usually painful. You usually will feel a tight sensation in the area of the cup. Often, this sensation is relaxing and soothing. However it can leave reddish patches on the skin, like circular bruises. Although these marks resemble bruises, the muscles have not been traumatised in any way. The redness on the skin indicates that there has been movement in the circulation of blood under and around the cups. The skin discoloration can last anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks Not all cupping will result in redness as this depends on the complaint being treated.
Cups can be static, placed onto the relevant part of the body and left there for a short period. Or if large areas of the body need treating, a technique known as 'sliding cups' can used. Here a thin layer of massage oil is spread over the skin; the cups are then placed onto the body in the usual way and slid along the muscles being treated. This sliding method helps the blood and 'qi' or energy to flow more easily in areas of stagnation.
It should be noted that cupping is not be used on patients who bleed easily and/or cannot stop bleeding, have skin ulcers, or edema. It is unwise to cup over large blood vessels as well. Pregnant women should be cupped with extreme caution and never on their abdomen or lower back.
Cupping has been popular with many celebrities…. From actress Gwyneth Paltrow showed up on the red carpet with obvious round cupping marks on her back, along with Jessica Simpson, Lady Gaga and Victoria Beckham. They have spoken about using cupping for various physical complaints as well as for relaxation.
Similarly several athletes have been found to use cupping as a secret weapon Wang Qun, a Chinese swimmer proudly showed off her marks during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, tennis ace Andy Murray said he used cupping in conjunction with other treatments to relieve stiffness and to help address a back injury.
But cupping is not just for movie stars and athletes ... cupping is highly beneficial for everyone.