Cupping is trendy now, but it’s not new. It’s really quite old (ancient in fact). Cupping refers to an older Chinese practice that has its earliest roots set in during the lifetime of a well-known Taoist alchemist and herbalist, Ge Hong (281-341 A.D.), who has the most known recorded mention of it.
The technique back then was a bit different-it used animal horns (not cups) to drain pus and blood from boils.
For the Chinese, it became a method to dispel “stagnation” underneath the skin, such as stagnant blood and lymph, and also improves the flow of energy throughout the body. The practice was much more like acupuncture back then.
It should be noted that some scholars believe that it dates back even further than its use in Asian cultures, all the way to ancient Egyptians using it around 3,000 BC, while others think the ancient Greek’s were the first to use it.
What is cupping?
Cupping therapy is a form of alternative medicine in which special cups are placed on the skin for a few minutes to create suction.
People do this for many purposes, including to help with pain, inflammation, blood flow, relaxation and well-being, and as a type of deep-tissue massage. The cups may be made of Glass, Bamboo, Earthenware or Silicone
It is different from normal massage in that, rather than the muscles being pressed down, they are pulled up.
Different forms of cupping make use of different materials, sizes, and types of cups. For example, some cups are bell-shaped, others around, some are made of glass, and others plastic etc.
There are ten forms of cupping therapy commonly acknowledged amongst those who practice it, but below are three of the most general and practiced forms.
This is one of the most basic technique used. Any combustible material (usually a cotton ball steeped in alcohol, but herbs or paper are also sometimes used) is ignited and placed into the cup, As the flame dies down the cup is quickly placed over the selected area of the body.
The cooling air and lack of oxygen create a slight vacuum, drawing the skin, muscle, and fascia up into the cup. The cup can be left on for a period of time, depending on the individual providing treatment and what you’re trying to accomplish. Typically, the whole process (from heating the cup to the removal) is about 12-15 minutes.
The same procedure involving dry cupping is been used here, and the cup is left on for about 3 minutes. After the cup is removed a sterile lancet is used to make a small incision or cut and another cup is placed over the incision, drawing out a small amount of blood. This is thought to aid in purifying blood having toxins and old blood/lymph.
The cups, while still forming a seal and vacuum, are glided over the muscles so that numerous areas can be treated. Stationary cupping as the name suggests is just that-stationary. The cups are not moved.
Note: To decrease the risk of burns and fire hazard, and create powerful suction, some people now use silicone or plastic cups with a hand pump to remove the air from the cup. This also allows for people to utilize cupping without the need for a second party.
Some have claimed it cures colds and arthritis. Others, particularly when it comes to wet cupping, feel it draws toxins out of the blood.
But cupping is also well used in treating musculoskeletal pain. Most study lies on this subject, although the study is still a bit spotty, and anecdotal evidence is the primary argument for cupping in general.
How Does Cupping Work on the Skin?
When the body is undergoing a lot of stress-whether it’s a rigorous training routine or the grueling hours of a jam-packed work week, muscles can get tight and small trigger points of bound up muscle (also called “knots”) cause pain and inflammation as circulation becomes weak and tension builds in the area.
By pulling the muscle and the fascia (the thin sheath which surrounds organs and muscle) one can reduce the tension or pressure on the tense muscle.
The improved circulation from cupping is also believed to help increase recovery time for strained muscles and aid them to heal if they have been overused. The idea here is that the more oxygen-rich fresh blood you can get circulating through an area, the quicker it will heal/function optimally.
The marks left by cupping on the skin are not bruises, per say. Bruises are caused by blunt trauma to the skin as a result of capillaries and blood vessels that burst beneath the surface. Cupping does not involve any pressure or force that causes a bruise, as it is typically defined.
The darker an area of the skin looks, the more “stagnant” the blood was and the poorer condition that area is in. The darkness shows that the disease or underlying problem condition has been drawn to the surface of the skin and new blood can get beneath and provide fresh circulation.
If you are healthy and all is well below the surface, the marks are apparently only going to be light red/pink and go away within some few minutes. Though there is no solid study to back up what the color of the marks mean and people’s bodies are all unique and react in different ways.
How Cupping Feels Like
It feels a bit strange at first. Sort of like a dull pinch as the suction is created, and then-especially if you have multiple stationary cups-a weird weight over your muscles that is most noticeable if you move the muscles the cups are placed over.
Once you get used to the sensation, it really isn’t bad, and many people will find relief as their tight muscles are lifted and loosened up. Moving cupping has always provided the most relief for me.
It is worth exploring all kinds of alternative remedies and healing methods, as every person has different things that work for them. Traditional massage might work better for someone’s tight muscles than cupping, and might not work for another person
Cupping might also be great when used in conjuncture with another traditional healing method, such as acupuncture. Also, after the cups are removed from the skin, you can mildly massage.
For the above reasons and a comfortable atmosphere, its suggested that you go to a responsible practice to first get a feel for the cupping experience before deciding to go for an at-home kit.