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The Uses And Benefits Of Cupping Therapy

A major branch of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in Bellingham used to stimulate the flow of vital energy (Chi) and eliminate stagnation, Cupping therapy involves the warming and applying of medicinal cups, usually made of glass, on the skin to heal certain ailments and illnesses in the body. Chi naturally freely flows throughout the body and can be found in the world around us, if this flow is disturbed or blocked, it can lead to an imbalance or stagnation in the body.

What is Massage Cupping?

Massage cupping therapy is a deep tissue massage plus the warming and application of cups on certain areas of the body. A vacuum is produced when the air inside the cup is heated and when the cup is quickly applied to the skin, the pressure inside the cup draws the patient’s skin into it. This stimulates healing by causing blood flow to increase and loosening the connective tissue or fascia in the site of treatment. The deep tissue massage is designed to relieve pain and break up scar tissue. More often than not, the cups are placed on the site of pain, shoulders, neck, or back. Cupping may result in temporary some soreness and bruising, depending on the strength of suction generated by the vacuum and the degree of stagnation in the body. From the standpoint of TCM, this is a desired outcome since it means that treatment was successful in clearing stagnation and removing toxins from the body. To take out the cups, the practitioner lifts one edge of the cup allowing air into the cup breaking the seal and vacuum.

Various Forms of Cupping Therapy

Cupping therapy can have different forms and the acupuncturist will choose the one that best meets the goals of the treatment. The cups also come in different types although glass cups are the ones most commonly used. Over a thousand years ago, however, practitioners used cups made of animal horns, clay, or bamboo.

Dry or Fire Cupping

Veteran acupuncturist and TCM practitioner Ann Michelle Casco, L.Ac., said that the cupping technique traditionally used was called ba guan zhi, or dry or fire cupping. This type of cupping entails placement of cups over an ashi point or ailing or painful acupuncture point on the body located along an energy channel called meridian. After the cups are applied in the area of treatment, they are left in place for about 5 to 20 minutes depending on the severity of the patient’s condition. Typically, a round of treatment may involve 4 to 6 sessions at intervals beginning from 3 to 10 day gaps.

Sliding Cups Technique

Another cupping technique called sliding cups is specifically designed to treat muscle spasms and pain. It’s usually administered on large muscle groups of the back. Prior to the placement of the cups, massage oil is applied to the skin which helps the cups to easily glide over the skin surface.

Air Cupping

Air cupping can be an optional substitute for fire cupping. This technique involves the use of a portable manual suction pump that extracts air from the inside of the cups, creating a vacuum without the need for heat. In China, some clinical studies show this novel approach in cupping technology provides more comfort to patients than fire cupping.

Wet Cupping

This form of cupping is distinguished via the inclusion of an acupuncture technique called bleeding. The therapist uses a lancet to pierce the skin before cupping therapy is administered. This causes a small amount of blood to come out of the treatment site. Wet cupping is designed to remove internal toxins from the body. Chinese practitioners of TCM utilize this method to help “cool” inflammatory problems.

What Can Cupping Therapy Do?

According to TCM, the stagnation of blood and chi leads to disease and pain. Cupping bolsters local blood and chi circulation in the treatment area, relieving tension, pain, and swelling. By pulling toxins and impurities to the skin surface, it cleanses and purifies the body. From the standpoint of Western physiology, cupping helps stimulate blood flow to the surface and relaxes fascia or connective tissue. It promotes better cell-to-cell communication and brings about tissue relaxation. Studies conducted by American acupuncturist and physiologist Helene Langevin showed that changes in cell-level recorded in an ultrasound camera implied that alternative treatment modalities like massage, acupuncture, and cupping can help lower inflammation markers and relax tissue. Chemical messengers called cytokines that facilitate relaxation and healing are increased while inflammatory cytokines are lessened.

The Advantages of Cupping Therapy

Muscle relaxation and local pain relief are just two of the benefits offered by cupping therapy. This ancient Chinese healing art enhances overall health by clearing the obstacles to chi flow that TCM practitioners have determined as hindrances to the circulation of positive chi or healthy energy. Athletes can also benefit from this therapy as it helps improve blood flow to a specific muscle group or help relieve pain. Several athletes, prominently, the members of the great U.S. swim team, during the 2016 Rio Olympics, have unabashedly and proudly displayed their cupping marks to the world.

Some Illnesses and Ailments that can be treated through Cupping Therapy

Cupping is often used in the treatment of conditions such as:


Stomach pain



Bronchial congestion



Researchers in Chinese have mainly studied cupping, finding benefit in problems like





Back pain

Herpes zoster (shingles)

Varicose veins


High blood pressure







Although the quality of these clinical studies is not at par to U.S. standards, the results of actual benefit are substantial, especially when the low risk of side effects is taken into account.

What Kind of People Administer Cupping?

Cupping is generally done by traditional Chinese medicine practitioners.

Cupping procedures can be found and are depicted in TCM texts that are more than a 1000 years old. If you are considering cupping therapy for yourself or for others, look for a skilled and licensed practitioner such as an acupuncturist who is licensed to by the NCCAOM (National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine) or the State of California Board of Acupuncture. Certified practitioners have undergone more than 3,000 hours of training at a distinguished institution and hurdled examinations required for the legal andsafe practice of cupping and acupuncture.

Does Cupping Therapy Produce Side Effects?

Expect to have marks on the skin when getting cupping therapy. This is brought about when the procedure brings blood to the skin surface, which may appear like a bruise. This treatment may not be your best option if you are currently taking anticoagulants or if you are suffering from hemophilia or any other bleeding disorder. People with these issues should talk about the advantages and disadvantages of the treatment with their doctor or acupuncturist before the undergo treatment. Practitioners would not administer cupping on skin areas where there are open wounds, infection, burns, or active inflammation. Some level of pain or discomfort may result but they are not deemed a side effect. Temporary medium discomfort may be expected as stagnation is cleared and muscles as well as connective tissue are relaxed.

Western healthcare providers and practitioners should consider cupping as a mode of treatment. However, the discolorations and bruising in children expected after treatment may be mistaken as signs of child abuse.

How long does the bruising last?

Bruises associated with cupping therapy may linger for a few days to a couple of weeks. Casco, a practitioner of TCM stated that after a number of weeks of continuous cupping treatment sessions, the bruising will be gradually reduced as the stagnation heals. This suggests a fruitful cupping plan of treatment.

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