Cupping is a therapeutic technique used in conjunction with acupuncture, acupressure, moxibustion and Chinese herbal medicine. It is one of the common practices in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Cupping is one of the oldest methods of traditional Chinese medicine. The earliest recorded use of cupping dates to the early fourth century, when the noted herbalist Ge Hong wrote about a form of cupping in A Handbook of Prescriptions. Later books written during the Tang and Qing dynasties described cupping in great detail; one textbook included an entire chapter on “fire jar qi,” a type of cupping that could alleviate headaches, dizziness and abdominal pain.
Cupping was created as a body treatment by ancient Chinese people nearly 3,000 years ago; it improves circulation by bringing fresh blood to the outer layer of the skin. The theory behind it is to dispel “stagnation” and then regulate the flow of qi and blood.
Meridians are the body’s conduits that disperse energy throughout the entire body, passing through every organ and tissue. There are five major meridians on the back that are used for cupping treatment. Some specific meridians and acupuncture points can be found on the neck, chest, abdomen, buttocks and limbs as well. When the meridians are open, invigorating energy freely travels throughout the body allowing for the healing to begin.
Each cupping session is about 10 to 20 minutes. When the skin is sucked up, it causes blood to rise without any risk for a painful reaction. Patients will simply feel as if someone is pulling at their skin. After the treatment, circular marks may be left on the skin where the cups were placed, which then subside after a day or two. The principle of cupping is to improve circulation, drain excess fluids and toxins, loosen adhesions, lift connective tissue, bring blood flow to the stagnant skin and muscles and stimulate the peripheral nervous system.
In China, cupping is used primarily to treat respiratory conditions such as bronchitis, asthma, and congestion; arthritis; gastrointestinal disorders; and certain types of pain. Some practitioners also use cupping to treat depression and reduce swelling. Fleshy sites on the body, such as the back and stomach (and, to a lesser extent, the arms and legs), are the preferred sites for treatment.
Studies suggest that cupping can be beneficial for respiratory illnesses such as the common cold, asthma, pneumonia, and bronchitis. The digestive system can benefit as well as it can help with Crohn’s disease, colitis, sensitive bowl syndrome, indigestion, malnourishment and eating disorders. Musculoskeletal pains such as neurogenic pain, menstrual cramp, chronic fatigue syndrome, and so on can also benefit from cupping.