Cupping therapy is the method of using glass or plastic cups to create localized pressure by a vacuum. Cupping refers to an ancient Chinese practice in which a cup is applied to the skin and the pressure in the cup is reduced by using change in heat or by suctioning out air so that the skin and superficial muscle layer is drawn into and held in the cup. Cupping therapy has been found in ancient records dating back 3,500 years and is still used today by many alternative medicine practitioners. Nowadays, cupping sets use suction to create the vacuum. The vacuum inside the cups causes the blood to form in the area and help the healing in that area.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine the theory is that the body contains meridians, these meridians are pathways in the body which the Qi (energy of life) flows through. It flows through every body part, tissue, and organ. Cupping therapy is mainly performed on the back because there are five main points on one of the meridians on your back. When meridians are opened, the internal energy is able to flow through the whole body.
Another healing aspect of cupping therapy is through the release of toxins in your body. The suction from the cups can penetrate deep into your tissues causing the tissues to release harmful toxins. It triggers the lymphatic system, clears blood vessels, and stretches and activates the skin.
Generally the cup is left in place for about 10 minutes. The skin becomes reddened due to the congestion of blood flow. The cup is then removed. Some bruising along the site is expected. In some cases, the cup may be moved while the suction of skin is active causing a regional pulling of the skin and muscle, this technique is called gliding cupping.
Contraindications for cupping include areas of skin that are inflamed, cases of high fever, convulsions or cramping, easy bleeding (pathological level of low platelets), abdominal area or lower back during pregnancy, movement across bony ridges such as the spine, and I would also refer to contraindications of acupressure/acupuncture points.
Some of the various diseases and disorders that cupping can benefit are respiratory diseases, digestive diseases, pain syndromes, gynecological disorders, common cold, insomnia, head pain, frozen shoulder, acne, and acute diseases. These are just of the few things that cupping can benefit!
While learning about traditional Chinese medicine in school we learned about cupping and practiced it on each other. I received cupping on myself a number of times, one of the most powerful experiences I had was when I was recovering from a cold and still had a cough that wouldn’t go away, I had also just had someone close to me pass away. The emotion of the lungs according to Traditional Chinese medicine is grief, so needless to say I had a lot going on in my lungs. The bladder meridian runs down your back on each side of your spine, on this meridian there are shu points for each organ. Cupping is very effective on these points. In my experience cupping does not hurt, but can be a little intense at times. As I laid down to receive cupping on my Lung Shu points (BL13) it felt really tight and I could feel energy (qi) rushing to this area. I continued to breath through it and within a few minutes I felt a release. Like I said it was intense until that point but then I was completely relaxed. Cupping this point helps tonify and spreads and descends the Lung Qi, it nourishes the Lung Yin, clears heat from the lungs, releases the exterior, opens the channel and alleviates pain. Lung Qi deficiency may derive from constitutional deficiency, previous Long disease, chronic illness, extreme sadness and grief, excessive desk work, excessive physical labor or lack of exercise.
I had to work that night and I felt wonderful, I didn’t have any coughing attacks and I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I don’t mind the bruising that occurs with cupping because the amazing healing that takes place is so amazing.
I plan on adding cupping into my own practice. As long as you are mindful of the contraindications it is a very safe and effective form of therapy!