We’re all interested in new and natural ways that can help us take better care of our health. So what better treatment to choose than one that dates back to ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern cultures? In fact, ancient medical texts have spoken about how the ancient Egyptians used cupping therapy to improve their health, so why can’t you?

What Is Cupping?

It is an alternative therapy that originated in China. According to practitioners, cupping is meant to address blockage in the body as well as stimulate the flow of qi – both of which can improve overall health. For those who are new to Traditional Chinese Medicine, qi refers to the energy that circulates in the body as well as in the environment. Any disruption or disturbance of qi can create stagnation in the body, causing health complications.

While the treatment originated in ancient Asia, cupping soon made its way into the mainstream. Especially since Michael Phelps was seen with cupping bruises before winning his first gold at the Rio Olympics in 2016. With that said, it’s important to acknowledge that not every mainstream wellness treatment needs to be adopted, so is it worth the bruising?

What are the benefits of cupping?

1. Pain relief

Photo by Ivan Samkov from Pexels

In the age of the opioid epidemic, everyone’s looking for natural methods to relieve their aches and pains. As such, cupping has become one of the sought-out ways to naturally reduce pain as it may help to relax tense muscles and ease stiffness associated with chronic back and neck pains. 

A study published in the BMJ Open found that cupping helped to reduce neck pain in patients compared with no intervention or active control groups, or as an add-on treatment. 

That said, a more recent meta-analysis published in the Journal of Pain found that while cupping might be a treatment option for chronic pain, the evidence is still limited by clinical heterogeneity and risk of bias.

2. Promotes blood flow

Practitioners of cupping believe that the practice can help to improve blood circulation, and as we know, that’s always a good thing.

In fact, a 2019 study referenced how researchers believe that improved circulation may help remove toxins and waste from the body, leaving you feeling much better.

3. Skincare

As mentioned, cupping encourages blood flow and this can help to nourish skin cells, and may even help to alleviate signs of premature aging. Additionally, a 2015 report also suggested that cupping may help with acne, facial paralysis, and shingles.

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4. Anxiety relief

We’re living in anxious times so if you’re feeling a bit tense, then cupping may be exactly what you need to get by.

By addressing your aches and pains, cupping promotes relaxation, almost as if you’re receiving a deep tissue massage.

5. Perfect for colds and flu

If you’re dealing with congestion, then cupping may be exactly what you need to clear up your airways.

By encouraging circulation, cupping helps to improve immune function and facial cupping may even help unblock your sinuses.

Image by 7thedenspa from Pixabay

So what’s the verdict?

A 2012 report published in PLoS ONE reviewed 135 studies done on cupping therapies. The researchers concluded that cupping may be more than just a placebo effect and that it has benefits similar to acupuncture or herbal treatments for treating various diseases. 

However, the researchers also acknowledge that most of the studies reviewed did contain a high level of bias so as such, more research is needed to properly assess the true effectiveness of cupping.

Preparing for your appointment

Are you still convinced that you want to try out cupping? If so, then it’s important to remember that cupping is meant to complement your current health routine, not replace it. If you want to try it out, make sure to ask your doctor for their options first.

Cupping therapy isn’t recommended for children, seniors, pregnant people, those who are currently menstruating, and those on blood-thinning medication. It’s also advisable to avoid it if you have a sunburn, a wound, a skin ulcer, or if you have experienced recent trauma or an internal organ disorder.

Cupping checklist:
  • What conditions does the practitioner specialize in treating?
  • What method does the practitioner use?
  • Is the facility clean? Does the practitioner implement safety measurements?
  • Does the practitioner have any certifications?

What to expect during treatment

During a session, your therapist will use a cup to create a suction, gently pulling the muscles. Once the suction has occurred, the cups are sometimes left in place for about 5 to ten minutes. The cup can also be gently moved across the skin and massage oils are sometimes used to help improve movements.

There are several ways that a practitioner can create suction in the cups. A common method has the therapist putting a flammable substance (alcohol, herbs, or paper) in a cup and setting it on fire. As the fire goes out, they put the cup upside down on your skin.

For those worried about getting burned, fret not. Flames are never used near the skin and are not lit throughout the process of cupping. Therapists may also use a rubber pump to create the vacuum.

Image by Ryan Hoyme from Pixabay

Are there any side effects?

After a session, you might feel a little weak. Make sure you get enough rest and stay hydrated. Common cupping side-effects include:

  • bruising
  • headaches
  • tiredness
  • dizziness
  • fainting
  • nausea
  • insomnia

Want to know more?

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Aboushanab, T. S., & AlSanad, S. (2018). Cupping Therapy: An Overview from a Modern Medicine Perspective. Journal of acupuncture and meridian studies11(3), 83–87. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jams.2018.02.001

Al-Bedah, A., Elsubai, I. S., Qureshi, N. A., Aboushanab, T. S., Ali, G., El-Olemy, A. T., Khalil, A., Khalil, M., & Alqaed, M. S. (2018). The medical perspective of cupping therapy: Effects and mechanisms of action. Journal of traditional and complementary medicine9(2), 90–97. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtcme.2018.03.003

Cao, H., Li, X., & Liu, J. (2012). An updated review of the efficacy of cupping therapy. PloS one7(2), e31793. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0031793

Cramer, H., Klose, P., Teut, M., Rotter, G., Ortiz, M., Anheyer, D., Linde, K., & Brinkhaus, B. (2020). Cupping for Patients With Chronic Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. The journal of pain21(9-10), 943–956. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpain.2020.01.002

Kim S, Lee S, Kim M, et alIs cupping therapy effective in patients with neck pain? A systematic review and meta-analysisBMJ Open 2018;8:e021070. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-021070

Mehta, P., & Dhapte, V. (2015). Cupping therapy: A prudent remedy for a plethora of medical ailments. Journal of traditional and complementary medicine5(3), 127–134. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtcme.2014.11.036

Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba is a beauty and wellness writer who has a passion for poetry, equality, natural hair, and skin-care. With a journalism degree from Pearson's Institute of Higher Education, and identifiable by either her large afro or colorful locks, Pie aspires to continuously provide the latest information, be it beauty or wellness, on how one can adopt a healthy lifestyle on a day-to-day basis.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.

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