Cupping is an ancient alternative medicine technique that's thought to help with a variety of conditions and ailments. While it dates back as far as ancient China, it continues to be common practice in the world of alternative medicine.
Various professionals offer cupping, including acupuncturists, massage therapists, and doctors of Chinese medicine (TCM).
When performing a traditional cupping treatment, the practitioner will pour a flammable substance inside of a small glass cup and set it on fire. Once the fire extinguishes, the cup is turned upside down and placed on the skin, and as the air inside begins to cool, a vacuum effect is created. This suction causes the skin to rise and the blood vessels inside to expand.
Cupping is generally divided into two categories: wet cupping and dry cupping. In North America, dry cupping is most common, but wet cupping has been gaining popularity in recent years.
Dry cupping is the most basic of the two and consists of simply suctioning the cup onto the skin, while wet cupping takes the process a step further by creating an incision in the skin after removing the cup and removing a small amount of blood.
Massage therapists who perform cupping often use small silicone cups as an alternative to glass cups with fire. These cups suction onto the skin without being heated and can be moved around to combine the potential benefits of cupping with that of massage.
In some cases, massage therapists and other practitioners also use a rubber pump in place of a silicone or glass cup to create a similar effect.
While it's not proven through scientific studies, those who believe in the therapeutic benefits of cupping commonly believe that wet cupping can help to draw harmful toxins from the body.
This process involves placing a cup on the skin for up to three minutes before creating a small incision and then replacing the cup to draw a small amount of blood from the body.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine notes that cupping has the potential to help reduce or eliminate acne, as well as outbreaks of herpes zoster.
That said, studies on the topic are limited and further research is needed.
A study from 2018 indicates that there's growing evidence in favor of using cupping as effective pain reduction therapy. It's thought that cupping decreases muscle activity, which can result in pain relief caused by straining or overusing muscles.
Research to back up medical claims made about cupping is light, but those who advocate for this treatment present a variety of disorders and health conditions that it has the potential to relieve. That list includes rheumatoid arthritis, fertility disorders, anxiety, depression, asthma, and varicose veins.
It's important to note that a lack of evidentiary support on the efficacy of cupping for these conditions means that it's vital for anyone experiencing these conditions to seek care from a qualified physician and consider cupping therapy as a complementary treatment. Always make sure to choose a practitioner with training from a reputable organization.
Because of the suction effect that occurs when cups are applied to the skin, the risk of bruising is high. In some cases, cupping may only cause a mild bruise or red mark that can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days; however, some people experience severe bruising that takes days, or even weeks, to heal fully.
While cupping is known to be safe when it's performed by a trained therapist, it's important to be aware of the potential side effects. In addition to bruising, cupping has the potential to cause skin burns and even skin infections in addition to mild discomfort and pain that may last as long as several days after treatment.
Due to the potential for bruising and skin infection, cupping should only be performed by someone with experience and extensive training. Before agreeing to any cupping treatment, it's important for patients to ask the therapist about their experience and training, as well as what other options there are to treat their condition.
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