Cupping is an ancient methodology in the practice of traditional Chinese medicine. The use of cupping could be traced back to the fourth century when the renowned herbalist Ge Hong made a record of a form of cupping in a handbook of prescriptions.
Afterwards, some literatures gave vivid description of a cupping process during the Tang and Qing dynasties. A particular literature dedicated an entire chapter to “Fire Jar Qi”; a type of cupping that alleviates headaches, dizziness and abdominal pain.
The ancient practice involves the placing of hollowed animal horns or cups over particular points or meridians. However, in modern practice of cupping; acupuncturists make use of thick glass and plastic cups; bamboo, pottery and plastic cups are still used in divers’ places all over the world.
The preferred method of delivery is glass cups as they are more resilient and durable compared to bamboo and pottery. It also allows the acupuncturist to see the skin and make appraisal of the effect of treatment.
How does cupping work? What is it applied to treat?
The process involves the warming of glass cups with the use of a flammable substance like cotton bud. The cotton is soaked in alcohol, ignited and placed inside the cup. Burning of the substance inside the cup exhaust the oxygen and creates a void space.
As the substance continues to burn, the cup is turned upside down and placed in a specific area on the body of the patient. The vacuum created by the lack of air anchors the cup to the skin, pulling the skin upwards on the inside.
Pulling up the skin opens up the skin pores and increases the flow of blood. This process is believed to balance and realign the flow of Qi, clears all hindrances and paves way for toxins to flow out of the body.
This process is usually applied by Chinese acupuncturists in the treatment of respiratory conditions such as bronchitis, congestion, arthritis, gastrointestinal disorders and pains. The process has also been found effective in the treatment of depression and swelling. The part of the body with ample fleshy space such as back, stomach, arms and legs is usually applied in treatment.
What are the types of cupping?
Besides the process described above, other methods include dry cupping, wet cupping and air cupping. In air cupping, a suction cup is attached to the base of the cup which is used in creating the vacuum. In wet cupping, the skin is punctured before the cupping process during which some amount of blood flows inside the cup. This is believed to remove toxins from the body.
How safe is cupping? Does it hurt?
Cupping is a relatively safe process; air cupping that does not include the risk of burning is considered the safest of all. The drawing up of the skin may cause minor swell or bruise on the skin. As the skin is drawn under the cup, it leads to the expansion of blood vessels. This will result in small circular, painless marks where the cups were applied. The marks usually vanish in a couple of days after treatment.
However, there are some complicated cases whereby it is not advisable to apply the cupping treatment e.g. fever, convulsion and people prone to bleeding. Cupping should not be applied to the stomach and lower back of pregnant women. Also during movement of the cups, body areas such as ridges, spines and shoulder blades should be avoided.