One of Traditional Chinese Medicine’s most widely used therapies is cupping. It involves the local suctioning of the skin through the use of mechanical devices (electrical pumps or hands) or heat (fire). Cupping is a method that’s deemed to help cure insomnia, relieve joint and muscle pain, enhance blood circulation, and extract toxins.
Besides his remarkable achievements, star American swimmer, Michael Phelps, caught everybody’s attention at the Rio Olympic Games for the dark purplish circle marks on his back and shoulders. Those were the telltale signs of cupping therapy, which he underwent to help soothe his muscles prior to entering the competition.
In the Western world, the Ebers Papyrus, written around 1550 B.C., is considered to be one of the oldest medical textbooks in the world. In this document, the Egyptians described how they used cupping to address various common medical problems and how people living in the Sahara desert also used it. Around 400 B.C., the famous Greek physician, Hippocrates, used cupping to resolve structural problems and internal diseases.
During the Jin Dynasty, a southern official named Ge Hong was believed to be the first Chinese to ever use cupping. He was interested in techniques of longevity, herbalism, and alchemy. Ge Hong was the person who popularized the saying, “Cupping and acupuncture resolves more than half of sicknesses.” After hundreds of years, cupping eventually found its way throughout Europe and Asia. In Turkey in 1465, a surgeon named Serefeddin Sabuncuoglu advocated this modality which he called “mihceme.”
Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners in Maitland, who perform the dry cupping procedure, apply specialized cups on the skin to generate suction between the skin and cup. They use either an air pump or heat to achieve this. The suction creates a vacuum on the skin of the patient that breaks up stagnant lymph and blood that in turn, boosts the flow of energy (qi). This procedure is utilized on the shoulders, back, and back neck muscles. After the cups are removed, skin markings are likely to appear. They are due to the breaking of the capillaries located under the skin.
This method is now widely used by high caliber athletes proving that it is an extremely effective therapy. Other famous personalities who use cupping include Justin Bieber, Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Pavel Sankovich and Alex Naddour.
In China, cupping therapy is called “ba guan.” Since the 1950’s the United States, cupping therapy was already quite popular. But it did not really become as popular as acupuncture. But Phelps and co. have thrust it into the limelight and has made this healing method more popular than ever. Cupping was mentioned by the British writer George Orwell in his essay “How the Poor Die,” in which he was surprised seeing it practiced in a Paris hospital.
According to the International Cupping Therapy Association, there has been a major rise in the sales of cupping equipment following the Phelps incident. A video in which Phelps himself appeared in, promoted cupping therapy for a certain sponsor. The video advertised silicone cups that can prevent bruising from the after effects of traditional cupping.
Cupping is believed to treat all sorts of medical conditions. It can be used to address skin disorders such as acne and eczema, gynecological problems, rheumatic diseases, and blood disorders, among others. People who received cupping therapy also claim it helps improve their psychological and physical well-being.
As an alternative treatment for cancer, cupping has also been a method by some people. The American Cancer Society, more an endorser of chemotherapy and allopathic treatments than a neutral organization, recently stated that “No scientific basis exist that would establish any health benefit from cupping.” Practitioners disagree with this as they claim many cancer patients have benefited from this treatment. However, they warn that cupping does carry the risk of being burned by the fire used to create a suction effect.
The efficacy of cupping may be hard to prove since this method is extremely difficult to carry out in controlled experiments. However, one experiment in which 40 patients suffering from knee arthritis participated showed that after four months of treatment, the patients treated with cupping experienced less pain compared to those who hadn’t received the treatment.
For most people, the most important question about cupping is how effective is it? It cannot be denied that the placebo effect may also play a role in its efficacy. This effect is beneficial and is brought about by a placebo treatment or drug that cannot be accredited to their properties, and therefore must be the result of the belief of the patient in that treatment or drug.