Cupping Benefits: A Guide to an Ancient Yet Effective Alternative Medicine

Cupping has been used for centuries in TCM for its health benefits on the body. Learn more about this method that has been gaining in popularity.

A physician performing cupping therapy on a patient

Cupping is an ancient healing method used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that provides distinct health benefits. It has recently been making headway in the U.S. when Olympian and former competitive swimmer Michael Phelps was seen with cup marks on his back.

There are 10 types of cupping techniques that are typically performed by licensed professionals such as chiropractors, acupuncturists, massage therapists, doctors, or physical therapists. Incredibly, the stimulation of the skin and muscles during cupping can treat imbalances, rejuvenate meridians, and improve qi circulation.

Cupping can also alleviate neck and back pain, ease pain from arthritis, increase blood flow, promote cellular repair, and relieve muscle tension. Moreover, cupping aids with skin problems, promote restful sleep, alleviate digestion issues, and respiratory problems.

Below, you’ll find more about this ancient method and its various health benefits.

What is Cupping Therapy?

A woman therapist heating up a glass cupping tool on a patient's skin
One method of cupping is to place small heated glass cups on the skin to create a vacuum effect.

During a cupping session, a practitioner places circular cups on the body (typically on the back, stomach, arms, or legs). The suction of the cup pulls the skin upwards and then provides a release.

This is performed as a wet or dry method using glass or plastic cups to apply suction and heat to meridian points (energy pathways) on the face or the body. Other methods include retained cupping, flash cupping, moving cupping, wet cupping, medicinal cupping, and needling cupping.

First, the wet method is invasive where the provider uses a needle to puncture the skin where toxins leave the body during the cupping process. Secondly, the dry method is signified by heated cups from fire. Cups are placed on the skin after the flame goes out. This allows blood and oxygen to flow, thus releasing pain and toxins. Both create a vacuum effect on the skin. Other types include ceramic cups, metal cups, silicone cups, animal horns, or bamboo cups in other cultures. Cupping is generally not painful. However, lightheadedness or nauseous can occur in some people after a session. Additionally, suctions can leave rounded dark purple or brown marks on the skin. This lasts for one to two weeks.

Eat wholesome foods, drink ample amounts of water, get plenty of sleep, and keep the area covered during the recovery process.

According to Eu Yan Sang’s TCM physician Kong Teck Chuan, people with diabetes, hypertension, or blood-related diseases should avoid cupping. Additionally, pregnant women and those who have bleeding disorders, blood clot problems, or are prone to seizures should not use this method.

Types of Cupping Therapy

A practitioner performing cupping massage on a back of a man
There are three types of cupping methods, each is specified for different needs and preferences.

Massage cupping 

Performed on large muscle groups, this method starts with the application of massage oil on the back. After that, cups move along the meridians to identify areas with stagnation or poor blood flow.

Stationary cupping

This technique involves placing suction cups on specific areas of the body for approximately 10-15 minutes. This process repeats to various areas of the body until the treatment is complete.

Sliding cupping 

A deeper tissue technique, slide cupping involves the application of massage oil on the body. Cups move along large muscle groups to areas of pain or concern or areas with poor blood flow.

Fire cupping 

This method has been practiced for millennia and starts with a therapist applying cream or massage oil to the back. However, it’s important to find out if a physician is qualified and has the experience to carry out the fire cupping technique before undergoing treatment.

A therapist lights an alcohol-soaked cotton ball and quickly inserts and takes it out of the cup repeatedly to create a vacuum seal. Then, the therapist moves the cup across the body and glides it across the areas of concern. This method aims to lift the fascia, thus extracting dampness and lactic acid from the body. This is beneficial for those who have musculoskeletal conditions or want to alleviate pain and inflammation from an injury.

3 Health Benefits of Cupping  

There are many incredible benefits of this ancient technique. We have outlined three common cupping benefits that can aid your mind and body. “Cupping can be an appealing therapy option as it can treat many health problems, often with immediate results,” explains physician Kong.

Cupping for anxiety

A 2018 study indicated that wet cupping can help with post-traumatic stress disorder, which is a type of anxiety disorder.

Cupping for anxiety improves the blood flow while also detoxifying a cupped area and its connected regions. Additionally, this creates oxygen flow and healing nutrients, which creates a state of relaxation or rest. Over time, this may relieve symptoms of depression and the stress surrounding these ailments.

Cupping for weight loss

A beautiful skinny woman looking at herself in the mirror while measuring her waist
Cupping helps the body to remove toxins and waste, thus helping you to lose excessive fat.

Obesity is a huge problem in America. According to a Harvard Study, 1 out of every 3 U.S. adults is obese. Unfortunately, this can lead to cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even death.

Obesity is related to a weakened digestive system, according to TCM. “Cupping effectively promotes digestion, improves bowel movement, and removes waste from the body,” says physician Kong.

The consumption of a TCM remedy containing enzymes has the same effect of flushing out waste and supporting the intestines. For example, a study showed that cupping improved the physiological state and the bodies of middle-aged women.

Alternatively, weight gain is also related to our emotional state such as being overwhelmed, stressed out, or anxious. Cupping releases leptin hormone in the body. This helps to manage hunger by controlling a person’s impulse to overeat.

Cupping for muscles

Back pain, muscle strain, stress, an injury, an unhealthy diet, or sitting for long periods with poor posture can strain the fascia. This can lead to pain, a reduced range of motion, and damage to the joints, muscles, and tendons.

Cupping can aid in stretching the fascia, tissue relaxation, enable nutritive fluids to flow into the tissue, and elongate the fibers. Repeating this method allows a person to alleviate pain, tension, and improve circulation. “Suction and heat draw out dampness, which is a common cause of such conditions,” advises physician Kong.

An incredible method for to help with many ailments, those interested in this method should have their case evaluated by a physician for the best treatment options. Physicians will look into your history and assess your response to this TCM treatment.

Moreover, cupping can be used as a treatment in healthy individuals that can be wonderful for relaxation and overall well-being.

In conclusion, cupping offers many benefits that are a great compendium to traditional methods.

This is an adaptation of an article, “Cupping for Beginners”, which first appeared on Eu Yan Sang website.

References

  1. Cleveland Clinic. 2000. Cupping. [Accessed on November 30, 2021]
  2. NCBI. 2015. Cupping therapy: A prudent remedy for a plethora of medical ailments. [Accessed November 30, 2021]
  3. PLoS One. 2012. An Updated Review of the Efficacy of Cupping Therapy. [Accessed November 30, 2021]
  4. Science Direct. 2012. The medical perspective of cupping therapy: Effects and mechanisms of action. [Accessed November 30, 2021]
  5. NCBI. 2020. Cognitive and Emotional Aspects of Cupping Therapy. [Accessed November 30, 2021]
  6. Asian Journal of Clinical Case Reports for Traditional and Alternative Medicine. 2018. The effect of wet cupping therapy on a patient diagnosed with panic attacks: a case report. [Accessed November 30, 2021]
  7. Harvard. 2018. Adult Obesity. [Accessed November 30, 2021]
  8. NCBI. 2015. Physical and physiological effectiveness of an overall health care program for middle-aged Japanese women with mild obesity: A pilot study. [Accessed November 30, 2021]

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