While you might be familiar with acupuncture or Traditional Chinese Medicine, cupping might be a new concept. It’s become more popular in recent years as celebrities and professional athletes have touted its benefits and proudly showcased the sometimes giant red welts on their bodies. But what is cupping and how does it work with a traditional acupuncture treatment?
Cupping is a technique used to stimulate acupuncture points by applying a glass, bamboo or metal cup to the skin. And here’s how those welts are formed and why they are important. The suction created by the cups causes the skin and the superficial muscle layer to be drawn into the cup. This is what stimulates blood flow and relaxes muscle tissue. This process gives skin that “bruised” appearance, but it’s important to know that no blood vessels are being broken in this process.
Typically, the cups are left in place for anywhere from five to 20 minutes while you relax. Your acupuncturist might also apply oil to the skin to help the cups slide over areas needing treatment and is usually done on the back. It’s also common for your practitioner to use four, six or 10 cups depending on the severity of the condition being treated.
Frequently applied after acupuncture, cupping is used for treatment of sprains, soft tissue injuries, fluid retention in the lungs, bronchitis, congestion, asthma, and chronic cough. Cupping is also recommended for the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders. Alleviating swelling and pain, cupping addresses a variety of acute ailments by removing stasis, or energy blockages. Cupping therapies often follow the acupoint selection pattern used in acupuncture therapy; back points in fleshy areas of the body are preferred sites. Increased blood flow into the cupping area allows the body region to heal more quickly and brings toxins to the surface, which can be released through the pores.
What’s happening in your body is that the cupping technique is activating your lymphatic system by causing your tissue to release toxins and clearing any energy blockages. Your acupuncturist might utilize cupping in addition to your traditional acupuncture treatment if you suffer from acute or chronic deep tissue pain.
There are several cupping techniques that can be used depending on what condition is being treated. According to this literature review, cupping techniques include the following, just to name a few.
- Dry cupping: defined as generating negative pressure inside the cups with fire, a manual pump or electrical suctioning (also called retained or static cupping).
- Flash cupping: a practitioner uses quick suctions of light to medium pressure for less than 30 seconds at a time.
- Needle cupping: acupuncturist applies short acupuncture needles and then places the cups on the areas to be treated.
- Herbal cupping: practitioner boils an herbal solution, soaks bamboo cups, and then applies the slightly cooled cups to the skin.
- Electrical simulation cupping: this technique uses transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). This technique is commonly used to treat muscular pain and to target specific points.
If you suffer from acute or chronic muscle pain, ask your acupuncturist if cupping is the right technique for you. Your acupuncturist will do a thorough health history and answer any questions you might have. The combination of traditional acupuncture and cupping might just be the winning combination you have been searching for!