Cupping therapy is a practice that involves briefly attaching rounded inverted cups to certain parts of the body using a vacuum effect. The drawing of the skin inside the cups increases blood flow to the area.
Long used in traditional Chinese medicine and other ancient healing systems, cupping has gained considerable popularity in recent years among athletes. For instance, swimmer Michael Phelps is said to have had the therapy in preparation for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Cupping is often recommended as a complementary therapy for the following conditions:
- Improve blood flow
- Improve immunity by increasing lymphatic output
- Reduce inflammation
- Calm the nervous system
- Stretch muscles and connective tissue
- Loosen restrictions and adhesions in the tissue
- Provide relaxation
- Optimize athletic performance
- Improve overall wellbeing
- Relieve back pain
In traditional Chinese medicine, cupping is said to stimulate the flow of vital energy (also known as “qi” or “chi“) and help correct any imbalances arising from illness or injury. It’s sometimes combined with acupuncture and tuina, other therapies said to promote the flow of energy.
How Does Cupping Therapy Work?
To create the suction inside the cups, the practitioner may them by placing a flammable substance (such as herbs, alcohol, and/or paper) inside each cup and then igniting that substance. Next, the practitioner places the cup upside down on the body. During a typical cupping treatment, between three and seven cups are placed on the body.
Today, many practitioners use a manual or electric pump to create the vacuum, or use self-suctioning cupping sets. After the cups are in place, they are usually removed after five to ten minutes. (Practitioners may practice “flash” cupping, by quickly attaching then removing the cup repeatedly.)
In a procedure known as “wet cupping,” the skin is punctured prior to treatment. This causes blood to flow out of the punctures during the cupping procedure, which is thought to clear toxins from the body.