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Cupping therapy

Cupping therapy

What is the buzz around these round circle bruises everyone has after cupping?  What is cupping and why has it become so popular? It has gained a lot of publicity from A-list Hollywood actors and actresses using it and Olympic swimmers debuting their cupping bruises at the London 2012 Olympics. Let’s take a look at what it is, what the evidence says about its treatment effects and if it can help you!

So what is it?  Cupping therapy has been used as a treatment technique in Chinese medicine, in which a cup is placed on the skin.  The pressure in the cup is reduced either by suction or by heat in order to hold the skin and superficial muscles inside the cup.  More recently, cupping has been used as a massage technique.  While the suction is active, the cup is moved causing the skin and muscle to be pulled, also known as gliding cupping.  In traditional Chinese medicine, cupping can be applied to certain acupuncture points as well as “ah shi” points – points that are affected by pain.  Traditional cupping is based on the meridian theory of the body and that cupping removes stagnation and opens up the meridians so that the Qi can flow freely.  It also assists in stimulating meridians and organs.  From a western scientific standpoint, the research has shown that cupping has been useful to assist with the lymphatic system, promote blood circulation and mobilize skin, muscle and fascia.

What happens during a treatment?  There are a variety of cups used, glass, bamboo, silicone. The practitioner will either use heat (fire) or suction to place the cup on the skin.  If gliding cupping is being used, the practitioner will use oil to decrease the drag on the skin as the cup moves over the muscle, skin and fascia.  Cups are left in place for 5-15 minutes and the skin will redden due to the congestion of blood.

What injuries or illnesses does it help? It is difficult to devise a sham (placebo version) of cupping, so there are not a lot of rigorous studies in the literature. Australian and Chinese researches in 2012 reviewed 135 studies on cupping and found that cupping may be effective  when treating acne, herpes zoster, facial paralysis, cervical spondylosis and general pain management.

Side effects?  Cupping is fairly safe, as long as you see someone who is educated in the technique. There can be some bruising and discomfort that may take several days to disappear.

Unsure if cupping is for you?  Talk to your health care practitioner about the benefits or side effects of cupping with your particular injury/illness.  Make sure you ask about other therapies that can assist your injury or if there are other techniques that can be used.  Every injury and illness like each person is different.  Make sure you get a full injury assessment and medical history before any technique is applied.

Cupping in the news:

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