“So What is Cupping?”
I’m always ready for this question when I start a treatment with cups. There are many ways to explain cupping, and I’m going to attempt to do it simply from two angles, Chinese Medical theory, and modern Western Anatomical theory.
Where Does Cupping Come From?
Cupping isn’t only a Chinese modality, as many grandmothers will attest. Ancient cultures all over the world have used cupping as a medical treatment. It is at least 5000 years old and is found in Egyptian, Greek, Arab, Indian, Turkish, and Russian cultures. Many people of different ethnicities tell me of their grandmothers using glass jars and a candle to do cupping on them when they were sick.
How Does Cupping Work?
Let’s first answer this question mechanically.
Choose the Type of Cup
The most popular types are made out of either glass or plastic. But there are also silicone, bamboo, magnetic, and even animal horn cups.
Create Suction onto the Body
With glass and bamboo cups, an alcohol soaked cotton ball held in a forceps is lit on fire, then quickly placed it in and out of the glass cup to create a vacuum. Just as quickly, the cup is placed on the body, so as not to reintroduce oxygen in the cup. Plastic cups use a pump device on the back to create the suction, this way the tightness is easily controlled. Silicone cups are squished like an accordion on top of the skin, and when released the suction is created.
Move the cup, move the body, or keep it all stationary
One method of “moving” cupping is the practitioner slides the cups along the body surface, with an oil used as a lubricant. Another method is the patient moves the part of the body with cups, this creates a shearing force along the fascial planes of movement. The cups can also just be left alone on the body surface, from 1-10 minutes usually.
Remove the cup
When the cupping session is done, the practitioner releases the seal and removes the cups.
What Does Cupping Do?
Asian Medical Theory
From an Asian medical perspective, stagnation in the body creates pain. Stagnation of blood, qi, or body fluids. But usually it’s a combination of the the three in varying amounts. What cupping does is mechanically pull the stagnant blood, qi and body fluids up to the surface layers, and it then circulates out through the lymphatic system. The stagnation is seen as the circular “bruises” left after cupping. Usually the darker they are, or the more puffy with fluid, the more stasis has been brought to the surface. At this point, new blood enters the area, and tissue healing occurs, and pain is relieved. But cupping is used for many different disorders in Asian medicine, not just muscle pain. It is used for colds and flus, digestive complaints, respiratory illnesses among others.
Western Bio Mechanical Theory
In the past few years, cupping has caught on in the Western medical arena, especially among physical therapists. This has sparked new research, and a whole other section of the population to receive cupping. It is almost a cultural phenomena after Michael Phelp’s was spotted with cupping marks (pun intended), given him by his physical therapist.
In western vernacular, cupping can be called “myofascial decompression”. The layers of skin, fascia, and muscles become adhered in tight and painful muscle tissue. The hyaluronic acid that acts as a lubricant for free movement between the fascial layers is no longer present. Cupping literally decompresses these different layers, and from there proper flow of hyaluronic acid is restored, as well as blood flow. Then proper muscle function and tone is reinstated.