Cupping is a modality used by acupuncturists to help treat pain. Think of “cupping” as “suction cupping”. In the traditional method, called “fire cupping”, a ball of burning cotton is briefly placed inside a glass cup to heat the air inside, which then creates a vacuum (suction) as it cools. Newer-style plastic cups have valves that attach to hand pumps used to create suction.
Personally, I use “fire cupping” when I want to slide the cups around on the patients back like a massage, and I use plastic cups when I really want to target a specific muscle or area. Most of my patients love it, and think it feels like a deep massage. If the patient has a lot of pain or what we call “stagnation”, cupping can leave red marks. I always say it looks like you’ve been attacked by an octopus. Below is a photo of Gwyneth Paltrow wearing cupping marks to a movie screening in 2004.
How Does Cupping Work?
There are a number of theories on how cupping may work to relieve pain. A widely held one is that suction on the skin “increases blood flow to the area and creates a mild immune response,” says Kathleen Lumiere, an assistant professor of acupuncture and oriental medicine at Bastyr University in Kenmore, Wash. It also helps release fascia, connective tissue that can pull on muscles causing pain or limited motion, clinicians say.
Here is a great article from the Wall Street Journal about cupping, and several studies that show its efficacy…
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