Cupping therapy, often simply referred to as cupping, is an integral part of Chinese medicine and is often combined with acupuncture or tuina massage.
This approach has gained popularity in recent years as a result of its use by some athletes, including Michael Phelps, DeMarcus Ware, Alexander Naddour, Natalie Coughlin, as well as celebrities such as Justin Bieber, Lena Dunham ou Jennifer Aniston.
WHAT IS IT?
Unlike massage, which presses on tissues and muscles to increase circulation and promote the elimination of organic waste, toxins and dead cells by the blood and lymphatic system, cupping works by the negative pressure it creates. A vacuum is created in the cup, which can be glass, bamboo, ceramic, plastic or silicone, creating a suction effect. The suction cup can be left in place for a few seconds or up to 10 minutes. Cupping can be used to treat pain, scar tissue and adhesions in muscles and connective tissue, muscle tension and certain circulatory or respiratory problems.
HOW IT WORKS?
Suction cups activate local circulation. There is also an effect on the immune system and a stimulation of the nerves which leads to the reduction of pain.
Stimulation of nerve fibers of small diameter under the effect of suction sends a signal to the spinal cord, then to the brain. This results in release of substances such as endorphins, and a reduction of pain. The immune system is stimulated by the slight irritation and inflammation that the suction cup produces, as well as the increase of the lymphatic circulation.
There is every reason to believe that this practice was practiced more than 3,000 years ago, and the oldest writings we have written about cupping therapy come from Egyptian texts dating back to 1550 BCE. This therapy was then introduced in Greece and then spread to other countries.
In Chinese literature, the first written mention of cupping therapy is by the famous Taoist Ge Hong (281-341 A.D). In China and other Asian countries, it is an integral part of traditional Chinese medicine and is regularly performed in hospitals.
MANY TYPES OF CUPS
There are several types of cups used for cupping and several ways to practice cupping therapy. Types cups include glass, bamboo, plastic and silicone suction cups.
The main types of cupping application are:
1. Dry cupping: this is when the cup is left in place, on the same spot, usually 5 to 10 minutes. It is this type of cupping that leaves the circular marks that are so typical.
2. Flash cupping: The suction cup is left in place for a few seconds, then replaced a little further. The effect is usually pleasant and relaxing.
3. Sliding cupping: That is when oil is applied to the skin and the suction cup is dragged on the skin, usually along the back.
4. Wet cupping: An area of the skin is pierced with a lancet or scalpel and the suction cup is applied on top of that area, drawing the blood into the cup. This practice is also known as Hijama.
CUPPING MARKS ARE NOT BRUISES
Depending on the type of suction cup used, the strength of the suction and the duration, it is possible that cupping leaves circular marks on the skin that can persist for a few days. The suction effect from the cup can damage small capillaries, causing blood to accumulate below the surface of the skin. To investigate these marks, samples were taken from an athlete immediately after cupping and microscopic observation revealed that the black mark left on the skin was “old blood” (1). It can be assumed that chronic muscle tension and micro-traumas cause the blood to stagnate in the tissues. Moreover, in Chinese medicine and some other traditions, “blood stasis” is an important factor in pain and certain pathologies. Restriction of blood flow caused by trauma or muscle tension causes slowing down of the blood flow, thickening and ultimately stagnation of blood. The suction cups pull the stagnant blood and the toxins to the surface, allowing the phagocytes and the lymphatic system to clean up.
Another indicator that the cupping mark is not a bruise, is that often the suction cups do not leave any marks on one spot while right beside there will be an obvious mark. In addition, the repeated application of cupping in the same place will produce less and less pronounced marks. It is also possible to accelerate the disappearance of a bruise by the suction cups. Finally, the variety of brands of suction cups, ranging from petechia to deep black circles, is not at all similar to the bruises that we see after a direct hit.