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What is Cupping Therapy?

CuppingCupping is an ancient technique closely associated with Traditional Chinese Medicine.(TCM).  Cupping may be useful for certain conditions that involve stagnation or energy blockages within the body..

In the traditional beliefs, cupping affects the flow of Qi and Blood. It helps draw out and eliminate TCM pathogenic factors such as wind, cold, damp and heat. As well as moving Qi and Blood, cupping opens the pores of the skin, thus precipitating the movement of TCM pathogens through the skin itself.

It involves the use of heated glass cups to create suction on the skin surface to encourage blood flow and relaxation. The heated cup is placed on the skin and as the air inside the cup cools, it creates a partial vacuum that slightly pulls the skin upwards and opens the skin pores. A skilled practitioner will be able to adjust the amount of suction required. This draws on or mobilises local fluids, releases stagnation, and helps to activate the flow of energy, while promoting an increase in blood flow to the area and surrounding tissues.

Ways of Performing Cupping

There are basically four different ways that cupping can be used or combined:-

  1.    Fixed Position or Stationary or Static Cupping is where the cups are left in the same place for 5 to 15 minutes
  2.    Flash Cupping where a cup is reapplied quickly and repeatedly to the same location
  3.    Sliding or Moving or Gliding or Walking Cupping is where the cups are moved over a treatment area of oiled skin – see the video below
  4.    Bleeding or Blood-Letting or Wet cupping which is still practiced by some healers in Asia

So it is very important that the cupping is performed by a practitioner who is trained and experienced with these techniques. The level of suction and the timing of the cupping are also relevant for achieving the desired results.

A Typical Cupping Treatment

15 or 20 mins in the treatment room is ideal for just cupping on its own, or the cupping can compliment other treatments, such as, acupuncture and massage therapy in a longer treatment consultation.

In a treatment session oil may be applied before the cups are used. Each cup is usually kept on the skin for 5-15 minutes, depending on the location and how much the area needs this particular treatment. Sometimes the practitioner may use a sliding/moving/gliding/walking technique with the cups, which stretch and pull the muscles and skin further. Different sized glass cups are used as required.

Note: Cupping may be for people for whom the insertion of acupuncture needles may not be viable.

After a Cupping Session

The treatment can leave a slight discolouration on the skin. Some bruising and swelling of the skin is also possible, but generally the discolouration is not bruising because bruising involves trauma to the blood vessels, whereas the discolouration is caused by the vacuum effect of the cupping therapy.. This discolouration is temporary (up to a week, usually less) and is a sign that you have been responsive to the treatment.


Benefits of Cuppingcupping

  • Increases nutrient-rich blood supply to area
  • Assists in recovery and decreases fluid retention
  • Stretches the tissues under the skin, which can result in increased movement
  • Assists in reduction of localized inflammation and aids recovery
  • Breaks up and expels congestion
  • Restoring flow and balance to the body qi
  • Stimulates the local acupuncture point


Cupping has an Olympic Moment

See those prominent spots? This is Olympic style cupping. Competitors at the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio, including swimmers and gymnasts, used cupping therapy as a physiological recovery tool to stimulate blood flow, loosen up muscles and joints, move toxins, improve circulation, help overworked muscles, relax muscle stiffness and reduce soreness, while relieving the pain of overexertion. This helped to speed recovery and prevent injury by restoring the flow of Qi life force energy in the body. Psychologically athletes do this to get their body to feel good and stay healthy. The superficial marks fade after two to four days.


Relevant articles:
Sliding Cupping
What Are Those Marks?