Cupping therapy is an ancient practice that dates back to Egyptian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern culture. One of the oldest medical texts known to man, the Ebers Papyrus, details the procedures used by Egyptians in cupping therapy in 1,555 B.C. To say the least, cupping is anything but new. Today, this alternative practice is being used by professional athletes and others just like you and me.
Cupping therapy offers many health benefits, including pain management, decreased inflammation, increased blood flow, relaxation, and overall well-being. It is used to alleviate musculoskeletal pain, oftentimes caused by the physical manifestation of chronic stress. Other health problems can arise due to stagnant blood and poor energy flow throughout the body.
There are two different types of cupping therapy: Chinese cupping and myofascial cupping.
Chinese Cupping Therapy
During Chinese cupping massage therapy, oil will be applied to the skin. Then, glass containers are heated then applied to the skin to create a suction or vacuum. During this therapy, the containers stay in place to activate specific areas.
Myofascial Cupping Therapy
Myofascial cupping therapy uses a pump to remove air from the container once it’s been placed on the skin. Once a vacuum is created, the containers can then be moved along the body. The vacuum draws the skin up into the container and increases the blood flow to that specific area. There is a slight pulling or mild pinching feeling as the vacuum is created. The feeling is not painful, but patients will be aware of the cups as they are placed.
“When the containers are left in place, in Chinese cupping, this serves as a spot treatment and when the containers are moved along the body, in myofascial cupping, it helps to melt fascia, stretch muscles, and loosen adhesions. The #1 scientific benefit of cupping therapy is increased blood flow to the area being treated.” - Ray Portner, Battle Creek Therapies
How Does Cupping Work?
Few studies have been able to quantify the effects of cupping because it is difficult to test the placebo effect. A patient either receives a cupping treatment or they don’t — there is no way to administer a sugar pill (so to speak). Once a container is placed on the back with a vacuum, treatment is happening.
Even without peer-reviewed studies, cupping has increased in popularity, especially among athletes and other individuals who regularly overuse their muscles.
So let’s break it down: What exactly is happening inside your body when you experience a cupping treatment?
Increased Blood Flow
Our skin is well-vascularized, meaning it has a bountiful blood supply. As the skin is pulled up into the container, so too is the blood in the underlying capillaries. This occurs through the dilation of these capillaries which can lead them to rupture (causing the bruising and discoloration often seen on patients). It is known that increased blood flow can relieve muscle tension, improve circulation, and reduce inflammation.