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Suction Cupping Therapy

Cupping refers to an ancient traditional Chinese medicinal practice in which a cup is applied to the skin and the pressure in the cup is reduced (by using combustion or by suctioning out air), so that the skin and superficial muscle layer is drawn into and held in the cup. In some cases, the cup may be moved while the suction of skin is active, causing a regional pulling of the skin and muscle (the technique is called gliding cupping).

History of Cupping

Cupping has been used for thousands of years in China and around the world. Ancient Egyptians (1550 BC) and ancient Greeks (413 BC) used cupping to remove foreign matter from the body, diminish pain, lessen inflammations, and restore appetite. Its early uses were primarily to draw out pus and blood in the treatment of boils and carbuncles. Later, it was found to be effective in treating other diseases and ailments. When the cup is left in place on the skin for a few minutes, blood stasis is formed and localized healing takes place.

The earliest written record of cupping being used is Bo Shu, a silk book that was found in a Han dynasty tomb. In 755 AD, cupping was recorded as being used to treat tuberculosis. In 1055 AD, chronic cough and poisonous snakebites were added to the list of ailments that could be treated with cupping. Cupping became very popular in Europe during the 1800’s for the treatment of many diseases. However, during the 20th century, cupping died out as a treatment due to the development of antibiotics and fever-reducing drugs. Today, cupping is used to treat "bi-syndrome" ("painful obstruction") in Chinese medicine, asthma, common cold, chronic cough, indigestion problems, and skin conditions.

Early instruments for cupping included cattle horns and bamboo cups. The first cupping therapy was applied using cattle horns, which gave it the name "horn therapy”. Originally, the Chinese applied hollowed-out animal horns to the skin, sucked the air out of the horn and then blocked the opening with one finger, drawing up the underlying tissues.

Sheepskin valves were also used to create suction in the cups. Modern suction cupping is still very similar to old methods, but some new developments include electronic, electrical, and mechanized suction pumps. Electromagnetic cupping has been shown to increase the therapeutic effectiveness of cupping, especially when applied to the joints.

Cupping therapy was further developed in Chinese medicine as a means to open the "Meridians" of the body. Meridians are the conduits through which energy flows to every part of the body and through every organ and tissue. There are five meridians on the back that, when opened, allow invigorating energy to travel the entire length of the body. It has been found that cupping is probably the best way of opening those meridians.

Cupping has also been found to affect the body up to four inches into the tissues. It was considered that this caused tissues to release toxins, activated the lymphatic system, cleared colon blockages, helped activate and clear the veins, arteries and capillaries, activated the skin, cleared stretch marks and improved varicose veins.

Because of the depth of its effect, cupping is among the best deep tissue massages available. Cupping is useful, safe, and free from side effects; it can easily learned and incorporated into your family health practices.

With recent scientific and technological developments, cupping therapy is gaining more and more acknowledgement and acceptance in western medicine. Throughout the world, more and more people are using this simple, traditional method for healing and keeping fit.


Aspects of Cupping Today

Some longer articles are available if you want to read about Benefits and Effects of Cupping in Traditional Chinese Medicine or Techniques of Cupping in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Below, some aspects of current-day cupping are briefly described.

Cupping Glasses
Cupping glasses are bell shaped with openings about 1 - 2 inches across. Before applying to the skin, the therapist dips a burning cotton ball in alcohol and briefly holds it in the cupping glass. When the glass is applied to the skin, the warmed air inside quickly cools and contracts, creating a vacuum that causes the glass to adhere to the skin by suction. In "bloody cupping," the skin is scratched with a sterilized lancet before the cups are applied.

The Treatment
The therapist palpates the patient's back to find any hardening or swelling, and then applies up to 12 cupping glasses to those places. Cupping is usually done to the left and right of the spine, but painful joints or muscle hardening in other parts of the body, such as the abdomen or the legs, can also be treated with cupping. The cupping glasses remain on the skin for 10-15 minutes.

The Effect
Cupping draws blood to the surface area of the body where the cups are applied. This increase blood flow relieves muscle cramping, hardening of tissue and associated pain. Because specific reflex zones on the back, abdomen and legs correspond to organs, cupping can be used to promote the workings of, for example, the kidneys, gallbladder, liver or lungs. Cupping can also mobilize the immune system. The treatment creates temporary, localized bruises, which - like all bruises - activate the body's defensive cells to heal the bruised area. Dry cupping is primarily used for people with a weak constitution and low blood pressure; it is never for patients with high blood pressure. Bloody cupping helps clear the body of accumulated irritants that cause inflammation.

Methods of Administration
Dry or bloody cupping?
If body areas are hardened and have poor circulation, the therapist will choose dry cupping, in order to attract blood flow to those areas. Circular bruises will usually result in such cases, but they will heal within a week. If the problem areas are swollen with excessive blood flow, the therapist will choose bloody cupping. Under certain circumstances in bloody cupping, the therapist will repeat cupping in the same place, applying a new glass several times in succession until all the accumulated blood has been removed.

Using acupuncture meridians
A therapist sometimes applies the principles of acupuncture to achieve an overall strengthening of the body. According to these principles, the bladder meridian runs about 1 inch to the side of the spine. Located on it are the influence points for all internal organs, and these points can be stimulated by cupping. This stimulation can also help anemic patients.

The cupping massage
In this special form of cupping, the patient's back is rubbed with a special salve (or oil) that promotes blood flow and lubricates the skin. The therapist then pulls a large massage cupping glass with a very rounded edge across the back with slow, even movements.

Suction Cupping
Suction Cupping has adopted the advantage of traditional cups and avoided the weakness of conventional cups. The cups are transparent so that the change of the skin and bleeding within the cup is easily observable, and duration of cupping is well controlled. Since this method does not use fire, there is no danger of burning the skin, and the negative pressure inside the cup is controllable based on each patient's respective condition. The Suction Cupping appliance, is practically unbreakable, convenient, safe and suitable for both hospital and family use.


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