Cupping is an ancient healing tradition that has become visible in recent years with Olympic athletes and Hollywood celebrities sporting telltale circular bruises on their backs. This alternative medicine practice is generally performed by a licensed acupuncturist who applies specially designed cups to the skin to create suction. Inside the vacuum of the cup, skin rises and reddens with increased blood flow. After five to 20 minutes, the cup is removed, and a circular bruise is often left in its wake.
Why in the world would anyone would do this? Cupping practitioners and devotees claim it helps draw toxins from the body and that it relieves muscle pain in a similar fashion to getting a deep tissue massage. Increased circulation to a specific area potentially provides healing benefits. And believe it or not, cupping can be a relaxing process.
If you’re in the market for a cupping set, there are great options available. For the amateur, many of these sets include video tutorials or helpful manuals.
Benefits of cupping
Cupping is an ancient healing tradition dating back some 3,000 years to societies in Egypt, the Middle East, and China. While there isn’t solid scientific research to back the health claims of cupping, proponents of the practice maintain the following health and wellness benefits.
Improved circulation: Increasing blood flow to a particular area promotes healing.
Pain relief: Cupping may be especially helpful in treating muscle tension and spasms.
Relaxation: The effect is quite like that of a massage.
Respiratory help: When cups are placed near the lung area, the process may help break up congestion and phlegm.
Methods of cupping
Dry cupping: In dry cupping, the cup is typically placed in one area and remains there for as little as three minutes or as much as 20 or even 30 minutes.
Moving cupping: This method is also known as “sliding” cupping. Oil is applied to the skin, and the cup is continuously glided over a larger area. This is particularly helpful in relieving muscle tightness and is similar to a deep tissue massage.
Needle cupping: In needle cupping, an acupuncture needle is inserted into a specific acupuncture point. Then, a cup is placed over it.
Wet/bleeding cupping: First, a cup is placed to create suction. The practitioner then removes the cup and makes small incisions in the skin, followed by a second cup to draw out a small amount of blood. This is thought to remove toxins.
Flash cupping: The practitioner quickly attaches and removes the cups repeatedly to an area.
Glass vs. plastic cups
The cups used by western practitioners are generally made of glass. Cupping sets that are available for consumer purchase are plastic, typically silicone. Glass and silicone cups are shaped more like bell jars than drinking cups (apart from plastic cups with manual suction).
There are also some “traditional” cups available that are made from bamboo or earthenware.
Heat vs. suction
There are a few techniques of creating the necessary vacuum inside a cupping cup.
A technique that involves heat is known as “fire cupping.” In this method, a cotton pad is soaked in alcohol and lit on fire. A glass cup is placed over it, extinguishing the flame. It is then placed on the skin. As the air inside the cup cools, it creates a vacuum.