Cupping is a type of therapy used for centuries, dating back to ancient Greek, Egyptian and Chinese folk medicine. With the use of fire, or a pump in modern times, suction is created against the body. Traditionally the cups were made of animal horns, bamboo, or ceramic. Many families have even used drinking glasses as home remedies. In modern day clinics, thick glass or flexible silicone/rubber cups are used. The negative pressure against the skin causes the tissue to be pulled up into the glass, the effect being like an inverse massage.
In the clinic, I first put down a cream or oil to protect the skin from friction. Then, the cups are either left in one place, or slid along the body, mostly along the back. I commonly use cups to help relieve musculoskeletal pain, especially in the neck, shoulders and back. This can be helpful in the case of an injury, car accident, or arthritis related pain. Cupping can also be used to treat headaches or migraines.
So, how does it work? In Chinese medicine terms, cupping opens the pores to expel wind and cold. It also helps to move qi and blood and remove stagnation. But in common language, cupping is thought to loosen adhesions or tightness in muscle and connective tissue, and promotes the flow and circulation of blood and lymph. Some studies have also suggested that cupping helps to reduce signs of inflammation.
Cupping is generally very safe and even relaxing, though it often leaves temporary marks on the skin from suction. These can range in color from petechiae (red dots), red, to a blue/purple. Similar to a bruise, they resolve within 1-2 weeks. There may be some tenderness or itchiness in the area as it heals.