Popularised in the Western world by Olympic athletes, cupping therapy has a rich history in many cultures across the globe. Historians date its use back to ancient China, as well as being found also in the Middle East, southern Europe and India at the same time. And although the types of cups used may have evolved since then, the principles and technique of cupping remain remarkably similar.
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What is cupping therapy?
In an acupuncture clinic, cupping is the use of smooth glass cups to create suction. I use heat within the glass cup to create the suction, and then place it onto the skin to draw up the skin and superficial muscle layer into the cup itself. The cups are left in place for 5 –15 minutes, depending on the condition being treated.
What is cupping therapy used for?
Cupping has many therapeutic uses centred around an old Chinese medical philosophy: Where there’s stagnation, there is pain. Remove the stagnation and you remove the pain. Essentially, cupping is used to release tension and remove blockages, restoring the natural flow of blood and lymphatic fluidthrough the body. This means that cupping can be used for:
- Treating digestive issues including bloating, reflux and constipation symptoms
- Improving microcirculation which helps improve muscle relaxation
- Draining excess fluids and toxins by activating the lymphatic system
- Treating musculoskeletal issues, such as back and neck pain, shoulder tension, recurrent injuries, and general muscle tightness
Cupping can be used alongside acupuncture in a treatment plan or as a stand alone therapy.
What do the suction cups do?
Whilst on your skin, the glass cups loosen and lift your connective tissues, increasing blood and lymph flow to your muscles and skin. As your lymphatic system is in charge of clearing cellular waste and toxins, cupping gives your body a toxin-clearing boost.
Is cupping therapy suitable for everyone?
Due to the nature of this treatment, there are some factors which need to be considered when deciding to use cupping. While it is suitable for the vast majority of adult patients, additional care must be taken on patients who are on blood thinning medication, or who have sensitive or inflamed skin. This means that if you have sunburn, skin ulcers or a wound, cupping is probably not the right treatment for you right now. As always, let your health care professional know if you are pregnant or breast feeding as there are certain acupuncture points which should be avoided. Most of the time though, cupping is extremely safe and does not cause any side effects, aside from cup marks.
What are the marks left by cupping?
Although the marks left after cupping can look like a bruise, they are quite different. For starters, they don’t hurt and aren’t even sensitive to touch. In fact, if you didn’t see them, you wouldn’t even know they were there. Bruises are the result of impact trauma that causes compression of local muscle and tissues, leading to broken capillaries which leads to blood pooling under the skin. In cupping there is no impact or trauma, and the discoloration is caused by dredging up pathologic factors and stagnant body fluids such as interstitial waste, blood and lymph fluids. By releasing them out of the muscles, it allows the body to clear the waste away, making room for healthy fluids to perfuse the area. The marks that are left behind can range in colour from pale red to deeper red and purple. They can last from 3-7 days, but will usually lessen as you receive more treatments.
Aftercare for cupping therapy
Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated following your cupping treatment. This will aid your lymphatic system in flushing out toxins in the days after your appointment. Keep the areas that were treated covered and warm. If you feel fatigued during the day after your cupping session, be sure to take it easy and get some rest. This is the perfect opportunity to engage in some self-care practices so get an early night and be mindful of how you are fuelling your body. Cupping is a relaxing treatment that can help soothe both body and mind.
If you think cupping may be right for you, book in for an appointment and I’ll be happy to discuss the benefits you can expect to feel.
Learn more about general pain management and how acupuncture and cupping can help,.