Athletes at the Rio Olympics have brought into mainstream discussion the ancient practice of cupping, made obvious on their skins with red circles.
So what is cupping therapy?
Also known as hijamah, cupping therapy is an ancient Chinese treatment developed thousands of years ago. It’s meant to stimulate life force energy through meridians in the body using the same theories as acupuncture.
Cups can be made of plastic or bamboo, but most therapeutic cups are made of traditional glass. A source of heat is placed inside the cup, warming it and removing the oxygen inside, creating a vacuum.
Alternatively, a suction gun may be used to create the same effect. The cup is then placed strategically along a meridian to improve blood and energy flow to the area that requires healing.
Traditionally, this healing method is used to treat respiratory ailments, reduce inflammation and pain, depression, and gastrointestinal disorders.
In modern days, athletes use cupping therapy as a means to clear all meridians and loosen up muscles and tendons to optimize performance.
The Science of Cupping Therapy.
Cupping works by extracting toxins from the body through the skin.
The cupping has been found to (1, 2, 3, 4, 5):
- Reduce blood pressure in hypertensive patients
- Relieve chronic back and neck pain
- Improve the stiffness and pain of osteoarthritis and neuralgia
- Regulate blood sugar in Type 2 diabetics
- Clear vascular claudication (pain caused by artery constriction)
- Promote proper digestion
Since the 1950’s Western science has taken an interest in this ancient practice. Clinical randomized studies—recognized as bona fide by the science establishment— on the subject have increased.
Here’s what a few of these studies have concluded:
“…quality and quantity of RCTs [randomized control trials] on cupping therapy appears to be improved during the past 50 years in China, and majority of studies show potential benefit on pain conditions, herpes zoster and other diseases.” (6)
“…positive short-term effect of cupping therapy on reducing pain intensity compared with no treatment, heat therapy, usual care, or conventional drugs.” (7)
“Cupping may allow patients to progress to functional movement training in a timely manner by promptly reducing pain and muscle tenderness and improving range of motion.” (8)
“After performing cupping, we observe that the coloring of the skin changes from clear pink to dark red, due to extravasation of blood from the capillaries into the flesh. This deep tissue blood falls into decay, the red globules break up and set free the antitoxins that impregnate them. Besides that, we observe extensive polynucleosis, which enables the patient to resist infectious pathogens.” (9)
These studies found no adverse side effects —apart from the temporary red circles on the skin.
5 Benefits of Cupping
Pain Relief – Several studies show that cupping therapy relieves various types of pain, from cancer to arthritis to lower back pain.
Relaxation – Everyone can use a little more relaxation! Cupping therapy eases stress by promoting blood and energy flow. It also releases toxins to relax the body and the mind.
Healing – Cupping promotes blood flow targeted to a particular area; better flow means faster healing.
Skin – Surface problems are often manifestations of what’s happening within. Increased blood flow brings oxygen and nutrients up through the skin to nourish and heal it.
Cupping may be effective in reducing the incidence of acne, eczema, and the appearance of cellulite.
Digestion – Whether stemming from an immune system response, poor dietary habits, and/or chronic stress, cupping can reduce stress in the abdominal area, relieving symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, constipation, and water retention (10).