Cupping therapy is an ancient form of alternative medicine dating back to the ancient Egyptian, Chinese and Middle Eastern cultures. Most individuals who practiced this were typically very religious and were seeking purification from cupping. In ancient Greece, they used the modality for internal disease (like infections for example) and structural problem. The method was highly recommended by a Muslim scientist and then it made its way into Asia and Europe.
How it Works
Cupping therapy works by creating a suction on the skin. When this occurs, the underlying skin and fascia (a dense connective tissue covering the muscles) lifts off of the underlying muscles creating a pooling of blood into the area and also increasing oxygen to the muscles. This can be very helpful for areas of poor blood flow and circulation and to areas that are “tight” or restricted. Cupping can be used as an assistive tool in a massage treatment, or as a full treatment on its own!
Types of Cupping
The original way to create the suction was with fire and glass cups. They used cotton soaked in alcohol, then lit it on fire, placing it inside the cup and quickly removing it. The fire made the vacuum in order for the cup to stay on your skin. The risk with fire cupping is that it may burn your skin. Another form of cupping is ‘wet cupping’. In this form of cupping a small incision is cut on the skin and the cups are placed on top of the incision to have blood drawn to the surface. This method is still practiced largely in the Muslim world and is thought to be a way of reducing ‘toxins’ from the blood and the body.
In modern society (and largely western culture) the most common method of cupping is using a rubber pump and plastic cups. With the pump, you can increase or decrease the air inside the cup easily. You may also put oil or lotion on the skin prior to placing the cups on. The lotion helps to drag the cup along the skin while suction is continuously applied. This allows a greater area to be covered within a treatment and works great for pain/restriction within a greater area. Another form is silicone cups. These cups simply deform more easily and can be useful in more bony areas like the hip/knee/ankle joints.
Cupping has not been well supported in the literature for many things, however, we do know it is effective for certain uses such as:
- Temporarily “loosening” fascia (dense connective tissue underneath the skin).
- Increases the “elasticity” of adhesions/scar tissue (making it more mobile).
- Increasing circulation.
- Increasing range of motion in the joints.
- Reducing stress.
Cupping therapy is a safe modality to use in your treatments, however you could have the following side effects:
- Bruising: when prolonged suction on the skin occurs, small blood vessels (called capillaries) underneath the skin may rupture causing petechia (redness) and later bruising. This bruising is most often pain free and takes only 2-4 days to disappear. This process is normal and necessary to build new capillaries that will ensure the muscles/injured area is supplied with high nutrient based and oxygen rich blood. Inevitably, this process allows for faster healing. There is no harm or negative impact to the muscles or other surrounding tissues with cupping.
- Rash/blisters (rare). This usually only occurs if the cups are left on for too long. Find yourself a good therapist to ensure this does not happen!
- Temporary localized soreness where the cups were placed.
Cupping therapy is an assistive tool in manual therapy with minimal treatment risks and many health benefits if used correctly. Be sure to talk to your therapist to see if cupping therapy may be a good modality for you to try. If you have never used this form of treatment before, this may just be the treatment that gets you those long awaited results you have been looking for!