In this post, Lubitsa Stubnova, one of our specialists in Chinese Medicine shares with us the basics of cupping therapy, along with the many benefits it offers to recipients of this treatment.

Cupping is a simple yet effective technique which can be used alone or in conjunction with acupuncture, tuina massage and/or moxibustion to enhance the treatment of specific health conditions or to improve health, athletic performance and overall well-being.

A Brief History of Cupping

Cupping is an ancient practice in Chinese Medicine introduced to the Mediterranean region and eventually into Europe by the Ottoman Turks. Cupping is mentioned in the writings of Hippocrates. Galen was also a great advocate of this method. (See: Cupping therapy: An overview from a Modern Medicine Perspective, JAMS Vol.11, issue 3, pp.83-87)

As cupping spread throughout Europe, this practice was adopted by many of the top physicians. But with the development of modern drugs, cupping and other simple yet effective methods of medicine were gradually excluded from general practice in the West – often regarded with contempt as “old wives remedies”. In China, however, cupping continued to hold a prominent place in medicine and is still widely used today, alongside other Traditional Chinese Medicine techniques.

What is Cupping Therapy Like?

A useful way to think about cupping is as the inverse of a massage. During a massage, pressure is applied to the skin – but during a cupping treatment, suction uses pressure to pull skin, tissue and muscles upwards.

During your cupping therapy you may feel a tight sensation in the area where the cups are placed. Many people describe this sensation as both relaxing and soothing. Depending on your health condition, the cups may be kept in one position, or a lubricant may be applied to the skin to allow them to slide from one area to another. One of the most common areas of the body to be treated is on the back, although cupping works well on other areas too, particularly on the fleshy parts of the body.

For the very first treatment, I generally practice a less intense technique to gauge the reaction of the individual, implementing more pressure for a longer duration over time.

Changes in Skin Colour During Cupping

Cupping often causes the skin to temporarily turn red or purple, especially if there is an energetic blockage beneath the cupped area. But don’t be alarmed. These changes in skin colour are completely normal. The skin discoloration may last anywhere from a few hours to a few days, but it is rarely painful. Once the marks have cleared, the procedure can be repeated until the condition or ailment is resolved.

How Does Cupping Work?

The aim of cupping is to cause local congestion through the negative pressure created by a glass cup or a plastic cup applied onto skin. The vacuum inside the cup creates suction and underlying tissue is raised partway into the cup. The purpose of cupping is to enhance circulation of blood and vital energy (or Qi) to help relieve pain, remove ‘heat’ from the body and pull out the toxins that linger in your body’s tissues.

What Can Cupping Help With?

Cupping provides relief for many health conditions and has numerous benefits. As mentioned above, it can help to remove toxins from the body and stimulate the flow of blood, lymph fluid and vital energy (Qi) to the affected area and throughout the body. If you suffer from back/shoulder/neck pain, stress, fatigue and headaches, cupping can be used to provide relief. Cupping also often works wonders for patients suffering with anything from the common cold to the flu, poor circulation and cellulite, various skin conditions (though cups are not applied to inflamed areas) as well as allergies, fevers and aching limbs.

When Is Cupping Not Recommended?

There are a few situations when cupping is not recommended. For those who bleed easily, have skin ulcers or oedema, cupping therapy is not advised. Also, women who are pregnant should approach cupping with extreme caution – and the treatment should never be applied on the abdomen or lower back areas during this time.

Cupping Therapy for Athletes

Cupping is often one of the secret weapons in the athletes arsenal. Generally, athletes are always looking for methods to improve their health and performance naturally and as a result, more and more are looking to cupping to help. Chinese swimmer, Wang Qun uses the therapy, as well as Michael Phelps, the most successful Olympian of all time, who proudly showed off his purple cupping marks during the 2016 Olympic Games. Andy Murray has also added his name to the list of athletes who has used cupping alongside acupuncture and other complementary treatments to relieve stiffness and help him with back pain.

But cupping is not just for athletes – it’s a therapy that has many different benefits and one which can easily be adapted to suit the individual’s needs and help them address specific problems. So, if you’d like to find out more about Cupping therapy and how it could help improve your health and wellbeing, please get in touch to discuss or to arrange your first appointment.

Written by Lubitsa Stubnova