Understanding Cupping Therapy

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This picture above is of world famous athlete I am assuming you would be familiar with. Do you see the marks on his shoulders?

He is none other than Michael Phelps who took the world by storm with his exceptional performances at the Olympics.

I am sure you must be aware of his achievements, but has anyone ever wondered what his training regime is like, what keeps him going and what helps his perform at the highest level possible on a regular basis?

These pictures will definitely give you a clue! If you look closely at either one of them, you might notice maroon to brown coloured circular bruises on both their arms.

Don’t worry, they aren’t beaten up before their heats or matches but in fact  have undergone a form of rehabilitative therapy to help them recover from aches and pains.

This form of therapy, a very popular one among athletes presently is called cupping therapy.

The History Behind Cupping Therapy

Cupping therapy, termed as Hijama by muslims, is an ancient universal practice which originated both in the East and West. In the eastern hemisphere, the Chinese have been practicing cupping therapy for almost three thousand years.

Along with acupuncture and moxibustion, it forms the framework for Traditional Chinese Medicine.

In the West, cupping therapy first originated in Egypt, in the Ebers Papyrus written around 1550 B.C it states that wet cupping, a variant of cupping therapy helps get rid of foreign matter and toxins from the body. In that era, cupping therapy was a mainstay of treatment for every possible disorder/disease encountered.

The Egyptians passed the art of cupping to the Greeks. Famous names like Hippocrates and Galen were huge believers in this form of therapy and tried to advocate it in their day to day practice.

From the Greeks, this form of therapy was passed on to the Muslim Arabs and Persians. Over time, this became popular worldwide. However, with the emergence of modern medicine cupping therapy lost its popularity.

With extensive research done, this form of treatment is starting to regain its popularity which it had once lost to modern medicine.

The Science Of Cupping Therapy

According to Chinese medical literature cupping therapy is a type of derivation therapy. They stated that one of the main causal factors of disease and pain is stagnation and congestion of blood and/or lymph.

Due to this stagnation, free flow of vital energy throughout the body is disrupted. They felt that this disruption of free flow of energy is one of the main reasons that causes suffering and disease.

Cupping therapy, which works on the simple principle of negative pressure, helps break the stagnated blood or lymph and tries to restore the free flow of vital energy throughout the body.

In addition to this, it also disperses pathogenic heat, toxins and inflammation to the surface of the body so that it can be released. It is believed that if these toxins and heat continue to be present in the body under pressure they tend to “eat away” the body/person.

Hence, timely intervention to release them to the surface and improving  blood and lymph flow is essential to get the body back to a disease free state.

The term derivation therapy which was mentioned earlier actually means diverting the vital energy from areas which are congested to other areas so that free flow of energy is maintained throughout the body even during simultaneous repair of the congested region.

Benefits Of Cupping Therapy

As you would have already guessed, cupping therapy is helpful in relieving muscle aches and pains. It does so by increasing suppleness of stiff tendons, while improving blood and lymph flow to regions with stiffness and pain.

Apart from the one mentioned, let’s find out what other conditions it can be used for:

1. It helps relieve constipation and IBS, it does so by increasing peristalsis of the gut wall, improving secretions from the gut and by improving bile flow and metabolism.

2. It helps decrease joint pains and stiffness by increasing the secretion of synovial fluid into the joint.

3. Symptoms of headaches, depression and emotional disturbances improves as it balances the nervous system.

4. It can be used to treat various skin disorders as it helps flush out toxins from the blood and lymph.

5. It can be used as an alternative modality of treatment in patients suffering from chronic respiratory conditions like asthma and bronchitis.

6. Treatment of Herpes Zoster and acne

7. Management of rheumatoid Arthritis and fibromyalgia

Types Of Cupping Therapy

There are two variants of cupping therapy – dry cupping and wet cupping.

In dry cupping the therapist/doctor will put a flammable substance into a cup and light it up, as the flame is about to go out they would then place the cup upside down over the skin. Due to cooling of air inside the cup, it creates a vacuum and a negative pressure suction.

what is cupping therapy

About 3-5 cups can be placed simultaneously and they are left in place for a period of 3 minutes. You can have multiple sessions at regular intervals.

The bruise created remains for a period of 7-10 days.

In wet cupping the therapist/doctor will make small cuts over the skin and will then place cups to draw blood. They are left in place for 3 minutes, similar to dry cupping.  As discussed earlier, this helps remove toxins from the body.

After the session is complete, a bandage and an antibiotic ointment is applied to prevent infection.

However, cupping therapy is contraindicated in newborns and pregnant women.

Where Are The Cups Placed?

How does the therapist know exactly where the cup has to be applied to relieve symptoms? This question is answered in the following picture:

where are cupping points

Image Source Pinterest

This picture represents specific trigger points for various organs throughout the body. For example, if you have symptoms related to asthma or bronchitis and you opt for cupping therapy, the therapist will most likely place cups in areas 45 and 46 as it is a trigger point for the lung.

Closing Remarks

I hope this article gave you substantial knowledge about cupping therapy. I am sure the next time you see an athlete on television with weird circular bruises on their body, you would know the exact reason behind it.

Dr Arun Mahtani

Dr Arun Mahtani

Dr Arun Mahtani completed his MBBS from JSS Medical College, Mysore in the year 2016. He is presently pursuing his USMLE exams for certification. He has contributed various articles to the portal Heartsense and has been a part of Baliga diagnostics team as a Junior Resident in the past. His interests are in the field of Medicine and Pediatrics with a special focus on Cardiology.
He recently participated and completed a certification course in Advanced Diabetes Management from Cleveland Clinic, USA. He has completed around 3 months of internship in Chicago, USA. His interests are in research and has co-authored an article linking diet in thalassemic children. He has completed three research papers on various topics which are pending publication. His other interests are in football, being an ardent Manchester United fan. He is also a short marathon runner and has participated in events at the city level. Presently he lives with his parents in Bangalore.
Dr Arun Mahtani

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2 Comments

  1. Hi. Theoretically, this can ease any energy congestion in the pancreas as well, correct? Does that mean that regular cupping will help alleviate the symptoms of diabetes?

    Where can one get cupping therapy done in Bangalore?

    • Heart Sense Team on

      Hi Rahul. Not very sure if it can help for diabetes. There are a few centers that do cupping therapy in Bangalore. Not sure which are the best though.

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