How can cupping nourish your soul?
This modality involves placing cups made from glass, bamboo, ceramic or other materials on the skin and creating suction to slightly raise skin and soft tissue. Traditionally, cups are heated by burning alcohol, herbs or other fuel inside, then emptied and placed on the skin. As the air inside the cup cools, its pressure drops and suction is created. More modern cupping devices use a pneumatic hand pump to suck the air out of the cup after it is applied to the skin, giving the practitioner greater control over the degree of suction.
This branch of cupping therapy is usually known as ‘dry cupping’. A variation often associated with Islamic tradition is known as ‘wet cupping’, which is similar to a combination of cupping and bloodletting. Wet cupping involves removing the cups after a few minutes and making tiny cuts using a scalpel, before replacing the cups to draw out a small amount of blood.
Although cupping is commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine, it was practised by other ancient cultures as well. Cupping is described on the Ebers papyrus, an Egyptian document believed to be from about 1550BCE. Hippocrates, often called ‘the father of modern medicine'', wrote about cupping, and the practice is also described in Islamic texts. In China, the first recorded application of cupping treatment is attributed to Ge Hong, a Taoist practitioner of herbalism and alchemy, in the early fourth century.
Benefits of cupping
One traditional explanation for the benefits of cupping, particularly dry cupping, involves the idea that it helps to mobilise blocked or stagnant qi, the essential life force believed to flow through the body. It is also said to improve blood circulation and help the body expel toxins, although this has not been scientifically verified. Wet cupping, on the other hand, is claimed to draw out ‘contaminated’ or ‘stagnant’ blood, with the intention of relieving pain and promoting healthier organ function.
Research into the benefits of cupping is ongoing, although laboratory analysis of the blood extracted through wet cupping suggests that it differs significantly from blood drawn directly from a vein. There is evidence to suggest wet cupping may be beneficial in the treatment of shingles (herpes zoster), and research also suggests it may help reduce pain associated with migraines. The results of a systematic review indicate that dry and wet forms of cupping may be effective for the reduction of pain and possibly support the treatment of various diseases, although further research is recommended.
Cupping may assist in relieving symptoms related to:
- Acne and spots
- Arthritis, rheumatism and osteoarthritis
- Back pain
- Blood pressure
- Chickenpox and shingles
- Circulation and cardiovascular conditions
- Colds and flu
- Detoxing and cleansing
- Eczema and psoriasis
- Edema and fluid retention
- Fatigue, burnout and exhaustion
- Fertility and reproductive issues
- Headaches and migraines
- Inflammation and swelling
- Neck pain
- Pain relief
- Respiratory and breathing issues
- Varicose veins
What to expect from a cupping session
If you are wondering, “Where can I book in for cupping therapy near me?” you will find health practitioners from many backgrounds offer this service. In addition to integrative health centres, cupping may also be practised alongside chiropractic, or as an adjunct to physiotherapy. Although cupping may be offered as a stand-alone therapy, in the context of traditional Chinese medicine it is often part of a holistic treatment program, in conjunction with massage, acupuncture and other modalities.
It is important for you to clarify which type of cupping (wet or dry) your practitioner will use on you, and how much experience they have in this therapy.
To begin your cupping session, you will need to remove your clothing from the area where the cups will be placed. You will normally be given a towel or gown so you don’t feel exposed. If you are receiving wet cupping treatment, your practitioner will apply disinfectant to the area and use sterile, disposable equipment. The practitioner will then apply the cups to acupuncture points along your body’s meridians (invisible energy channels), or myofascial trigger points. The cups are usually left in place for approximately 10 minutes.
If you are receiving cupping massage, which is a variant of dry cupping sometimes called ‘mobile cupping’ or ‘slide cupping’, your practitioner will apply massage oil before placing the cups. They will then be able to glide the cups over your skin, with an effect that is a little like the ‘opposite’ of massage, because your muscles are drawn up instead of being compressed. After the cups are removed, you will be left with characteristic circular marks on your skin. These may be slightly sensitive but are usually not painful, and fade within a few days.
Wet cupping is not advised if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, if you have a blood disorder or taking anticoagulant medication. It is also not recommended for children younger than 10 years old, or for adults older than 70. It is not suitable for people recovering from surgery, or who have a history of health problems such as cancer or diabetes. Dry cupping generally has a lower risk profile, but it is also not advised in some circumstances, for example on sunburnt skin, or if you have a high temperature.
Speak to your practitioner about any concerns or health issues you might have, and they will advise you whether cupping is suitable for you. As with any exercise or wellness program, please consult your medical professional before undertaking cupping therapy.