Cupping. How does it work? What is it good for?


Cupping is one of the oldest methods of healing used in traditional Chinese medicine. The process involves creating a vacuum inside of a “cup” and placing it on the skin.  The vacuum sucks some of the skin up into the cup, which produces the healing effect.  Heavy glass cups, as seen on the left,  are the traditional method and allow the acupuncturist to clearly see the skin and evaluate the effects of treatment.  This method requires the introduction of a flame into the cup to produce the vacuum.  Today, many practitioners use smaller plastic cups and a vacuum pump to suck the air out.  These can be very effective for many conditions but don’t provide the same range of treatment opportunities as the glass cups.

Depending on the condition being treated, the cups will generally be left in place from 5 to 10 minutes and occasionally longer. Often, several cups will be placed on a patient’s body at the same time. Some practitioners will also apply small amounts of medicated oils or herbal oils to the skin just before the cupping procedure, which lets them move the cups up and down along particular acupuncture channels or muscle pathways after they have been applied.

An old Chinese medical maxim states:

”Where there’s free flow there is no pain.  Where there is no free flow there is pain.”

Pain in this context refers not only to physical pain but to all dis-ease.  The vast majority of all illness and disease comes from stagnation, congestion and blockage of the body’s fluids, including blood and lymph. The suction applied by cupping breaks up that congestion, and restores a free flow of fluids in your body. Remove the stagnation, and you remove the ” pain”.  This is as true of muscle pains as it is for internal medicine conditions.

By improving the circulation of blood, lymph and other vital fluids, cupping disperses blockages caused by congestion of toxins, improving the elimination of wastes from the body. Consequently, cupping not only improves the circulation of blood and lymph but it also improves the functioning of the  nervous system, allowing for a profound sense of relaxation.

Locally, the most obvious benefit of cupping are a relief of pain while promoting relaxation and increased suppleness of stiff tendons and muscles. But cupping can also have a dramatic detoxifying effect on the skin by circulating the blood and removing toxins. When applied to the digestive organs, cupping causes increases in digestive fluids and and enhances motility in the digestive tract, promoting better digestion and elimination.  In fact, cupping can produce a wide range of benefits ranging from the elimination of congestion and coughing associated with common colds, to cellulite reduction and other cosmetic conditions. It can have broad effects on the human body.


But why has cupping been so popular at the Rio Olympics? Cupping helps to relieve the aches and pains caused by training and competing and speeds up recovery.  These strenuous activities create injury to the muscles, which causes micro bleeding and congestion of blood and fluids.  This not only causes pain but also can lead to reduced performance.  As stated above, cupping releases the stuck blood and encourages healing. In addition, the increase in blood flow to the area means that the tissues receive more nutrients and oxygen for faster recovery. Additionally, many athletes combine cupping with acupuncture or massage to receive the optimum benefit from the treatment.

Cupping is a part of an entire medical system that was developed in China over thousands of years.  In this comprehensive system cupping was not just used as a stand-alone treatment but was always just a part of a more comprehensive treatment plan. While cupping can be used for temporary relief of muscle aches and pains, a more whole-istic approach is necessary for complete healing and restoration to optimum health. This system includes not only cupping and acupuncture but also food and herbal therapy along with a prescription for the proper type of exercise for the patient.  This is a comprehensive treatment plan that requires skill and  knowledge of  Classical Chinese medicine to properly implement.  Please feel free to contact us for further information or to schedule an introductory consult.



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