Cupping therapy has a long history in the US and throughout the world. It most recently entered the mainstream when various professional athletes were seen on TV with marks, as they expressed their affinity for the practice. Without an understanding of the therapy, one might think “What do these red and purple bruise-like circles mean?” and “Why would someone do this to their body?” Well, I am here to share with you what cupping is, the origins of cupping therapy, and how it can help someone through the lens of Chinese medicine. Maybe cupping is exactly what you need!

What is Cupping

Cupping therapy is an ancient practice used throughout the world across countries and cultures. A practitioner will place cups on a patient's body for various conditions including musculoskeletal pain, colds, and asthma--often leading to bruise-like circles on the patient’s body. Different methods have been used in varying cultures such as fire cupping, wet cupping, dry cupping, gliding cupping, and more. Also, various cups have been used, such as glass, silicone, wood, plastic, metal, and so on. Nowadays, most practitioners use glass, silicone, or plastic.

Cupping marks can take a few days to a week to fade. Patients are encouraged to keep the area covered after treatment, drink extra water, and avoid strenuous activities and alcohol intake.

The History of Cupping

There is some debate as to where cupping originated. Some believe it originated in China, however, there is evidence pointing toward Egyptians inventing the practice. No matter the true origin, practitioners throughout history used this therapy in many different cultures:

  • In ancient Greece, Hippocrates used cupping for treating internal diseases and structural problems. 
  • In ancient Islamic tradition, Prophet Muhammad promoted the use of cupping as one of the best remedies. 
  • In Chinese tradition, cupping therapy can be traced back to the early Han Dynasty. 
  • One of the oldest medical textbooks, The Ebers Papyrus, mentions the use of cupping by ancient Egyptians. 
  • In the Renaissance era, the practice of cupping spread throughout Europe.

Cupping therapy recently found a resurgence as a viable holistic treatment due to celebrities popularizing the practice. 

Cupping and Chinese Medicine

In Chinese Medicine, we often use the fire cupping method. This is where a practitioner will use a glass cup and suction it to the patient’s body by burning up the oxygen in the cup with fire. First, the practitioner will place oil on the part of the body where cupping will be used, and then place the cups using the fire cupping method.

Depending on the condition, the cups may be placed and left stationary or the practitioner will move the cups around a greater area of the body using the gliding cupping method. When gliding the cups, it often feels to the patient as if it is a "reverse massage." Instead of the typical massage feeling of "pushing" into the muscles, it is a "pulling away" sensation.

From the Chinese medical perspective, cupping helps to warm the meridian channels, promote the free flow of Qi and blood, dispel Chinese medical pathogens of cold and dampness, and diminish swellings and pain. It is often indicated for a patient experiencing acute or chronic pain, colds and cases of flu, lung conditions such as asthma, and musculoskeletal issues.

Where to Get Cupping

Many acupuncturists, massage therapists, and sometimes physical therapists will offer cupping as part of their services. While I do not offer cupping as a stand-alone service, I often provide cupping treatments at Mili Shah Acupuncture in my University Heights, San Diego clinic when a patient’s symptoms indicate cupping as the best form of therapy. This is typically the case for musculoskeletal pain but could be indicated for other symptoms as well.

Whether you're experiencing pain, mental health, gut health, or other concerns, I'd love to help. Schedule your appointment at my San Diego Acupuncture clinic today!

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