Cupping is a traditional Chinese medical treatment technique that uses glass cups placed on the skin. Suction is applied to unblock the flow of energy and blood, or in Western biomedicine terms, to increase circulation in an affected area. Cupping is most effectively combined with acupuncture, but it can also be administered alone. The suction and negative pressure provided by cupping can loosen muscles, encourage blood flow, and sedate the nervous system.
Cupping is used to relieve:
- Muscle stiffness of the neck and shoulders
- Sports injury
- Back pain
- and many other conditions
Cupping is also a great recovery tool for all athletes, young and old. Cupping was the focus of the media attention during the 2016 Rio Olympics when Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, appeared on the millions of TV screens with the red and purple round marks on his back. Cupping is an inverse of massage—rather than applying pressure to the muscles, it uses gentle pressure to pull them upward. The suction pulls the tight muscles and stretches the fascia, the connective tissue around the muscles, and causes blood vessels to dilate. The theory is that the increased blood flow speeds muscular and soft tissue recovery and healing after strain. In addition to Phelps, Belarusian and Lithuanian swimmers Pavel Sankovich and Ruta Meilutyte, and US gymnast Alex Naddour, among others, were seen with the cupping marks at the Olympics. According to Naddour, cupping “provides relief from the soreness and pounding that come from gymnastics”. He told USA Today that cupping was his “secret to keeping healthy”.
Cupping is considered to be a great recovery tool by other professional athletes all over the world. In the US, Floyd Mayweather, Denver Broncos player DeMarcus Ware, more than half of the players on the Philadelphia Eagles team, MLB and NBA players, are among the fans of cupping. Even celebrities like Jennifer Aniston, Justin Bieber, and Victoria Beckham have been seen with the cupping marks recently.
All cupping methods are generally safe. At Asiana Wellness, we would choose the most appropriate cupping technique based on the patient’s constitution, complaints, and symptoms. Cupping techniques can include the use of fire and intentional bleeding and that is why a skilled, sterile, and safe environment is required under the direct supervision of Dr. Park.
This traditional Chinese medical technique is done by lighting flammable liquid in glass cups. The cups are warmed, then placed on affected parts of the body. The flame burns away the oxygen in the cup and creates a vacuum. Once the flame goes out, the vacuum gently pulls a layer of skin and muscle upward from the body and draws blood to the surface. This process stimulates muscles and blood flow, while relieving pain. For most patients, fire cupping provides a relaxing and therapeutic sensation. The red post-cupping marks, which typically last several days, is caused by ruptured capillaries beneath the skin.
In this traditional Chinese medicine procedure, the glass cups with valves are used. The valve attach to a handheld suction pump, which vacuums air from the cup. The vacuum sucks the skin into the cup, separating it from the tissues below. The suction cause the capillaries just beneath the surface to rupture, creating the circular bruises. Vacuum cupping marks generally fade after a few days.
Dry Cupping vs. Wet Cupping
The two types of cupping above describe dry cupping, which may cause bruising but not bleeding on the surface of the skin. Wet cupping, on the other hand, is a form of medical bleeding. In this procedure, the skin is pricked with a lancet before the cup is placed. The suction then draws out a small amount of blood into the cup. It is seen in traditional Chinese medicine as a type of detox and is also a popular therapy. Most published studies of traditional Chinese medicine cupping have focused on wet cupping.
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