Updated: Jan 17
Cupping is a practice used in many parts of the world including China and West Asia. One of the oldest medical texts written in 1550BC known as The Ebers Papyrus describes Egyptians used cupping as treatment for various medical conditions. Chinese cupping was first recorded in 281 AD by Ge Hong, an Eastern Jin Dynasty scholar in his book ‘Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies’. He was also interested in alchemy, herbalism and created the First Aid of TCM. Cupping was an ancient Taoist medical practice that was widely used in the courts of Imperial China. This modality rose to its popularity in the Rio Olympic Games when accomplished American swimmer Michael Phelps caught everyone’s eyes with the dark purple cupping marks on his shoulders and back. In Islamic societies, cupping is a Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and is extensively reported in a wide collection of hadhith. This modality is strongly recommended as an integral part of Islamic Prophetic Medicine In Sahih Al Bukhari; a collection of Hadith by Prophet Muhammad (SAW), it states that “Indeed, the best of remedies you have is hijama (cupping)”.
What is Cupping?
It is based on the philosophy that certain health conditions arise from stagnation of blood and poor Qi (energy) flow in the body. It is regarded as a safe, non -invasive treatment. For the administration of cupping, a local suction is creates using either fire or other mechanical devices such as hand pumps. The pressure created helps draw blood to the surface in the area increasing blood flow. The increase in blood flow can help relieve muscle tension, improve circulation and reduce inflammation.
Types of cupping
Dry Cupping: This is the most often used type of cupping that uses suction only. A vacuum is created using fire or other mechanical devices such as a pump or silicone before placing the cups on specific area creating the skin to rise as the air cools with in the cup. These cups can be placed for 5-10 minutes or repeatedly placed and removed with in the 5-minute treatment. This is known as flash cupping.
Wet Cupping: In the Qing Dynasty, physicians experimented with bamboo and ceramic pottery starting the introduction of wet cupping. Bamboo cups were boiled in herbal decoctions and placed on affected areas. This practice can be found in the book ‘Supplement to Outline of Materia Medica’ written by Zhao Xuemin.
Hijama: This method involves both suction and controlled bleeding of specific points. Small pinpricks are marked on the skin before placing cups on top to help draw out the blood. Compared to dry cupping, wet cupping produces faster results and is a more effective method to move congestion and sluggishness in the body by eliminating ‘bad’ blood.
Massage Cupping: This is an adaptation of traditional cupping using glass or silicone cups and is also known as ‘gliding cupping’ or ‘moving cupping. Generally, oil is applied to the area prior to massage cupping to promote ease of the gliding action. The gliding cups may follow meridians pathways or muscle groups in a circular or linear motion. This helps with myofascial release
Needle Cupping: This method also originated in the Qing Dynasty when they integrated both acupuncture and cupping. Needles were inserted at acupuncture points before placing a suction cup over them for a strong course of action in treatment.
Benefits of Cupping
Some health benefits of cupping include:
Improved blood flow
Loosen scar tissue and soft tissue adhesions
Calming the nervous system promoting relaxation
Improves the movement of lymphatic fluid
*please note that you may feel lightheaded/dizzy, nauseous and experience sweating as a side effect of treatment.
It is popular misconception that cupping marks are bruises as a result of treatment. A bruise is caused by an impact trauma with compressed breakage of capillaries and a reactionary rush of fluids to the damaged location resulting from the tissue injury. Cupping on the other hand does not involve and impact trauma and compression to the site. Instead it draws out blood from deeper layers to the surface. The darker the colour after cupping, it is indicative of stagnation and toxins rising from deeper layers. Cupping marks can look scary but will resolve in 5-10 days and gives us more information about the imbalances of the body. Following is a chart depicting reactions you may observe after cupping and what it indicates.
Usually practitioners observe the greatest amounts of deposit being drawn to the surface in the first few sessions. As the toxins and stagnation gets dredged up and flushed out, these marks lessen.
Immediately after cupping, the meridians are very open and susceptible to external pathogens entering in to the body. Therefore, the following is good practice after a cupping session:
- Cover the site of treatment well on windy cold days
- Drink lots of water to help flush out toxins
- If taking a shower or bath, do so 2-4 hours after treatment
- Instead of going for a work out, rest and rejuvenate for the rest of the day