As an acupuncturist, I am frequently asked about a technique used to treat pain called "cupping". People are curious about how it works, if it can help treat pain and why it leaves bruises.
Cupping is an ancient modality that is not only practiced in Asia but also was once practiced all over the world. In Spain and Latin American countries, it is called bentosa; in the Middle East it is called hijima.
To understand cupping, we need to understand what fascia is. Fascia is a thin layer of fibrous tissue throughout the body, connecting everything together; blood vessels, ligaments, tendons, skin, muscle, and organs. Fascia holds everything in its proper place during movement. It is responsible for elasticity of the body, allowing muscles to stretch and contract. Your fascia stays lubricated to allow for frictionless movement and it keeps constant communication throughout the body.
As we get older our fascia becomes less flexible and due to wear and tear, lack of proper stretching, accumulated injuries etc. fascia starts to become adhesions or scar tissue. These adhesions restirct mobility between the parts of the body, mainly skin and muscle. When the fascia is injured or has scar tissues there is a disruption in all the above functions, and there will be pain.
The cupping technique involves creating a vacuum in a small cup, which is placed on the area of pain to create negative pressure and pull the skin up into the cup.
This separates the fascia from the muscle. Initial treatments will create a bruise or deep red mark that takes one to a few days to diminish. Imagine pulling a very sticky Band-Aid off a wound; it will cause to wound to re-open and there will be some bleeding. That is what is happening when a cup is moved over the skin or placed in a static position. The skin is pulled up and breaks up the fascia adhesions and scars, which causes the area to be filled with blood and fluid. Usually, by the second or third treatment, there are no marks.
There are many ways to practice cupping: static cupping; moving cups; flash cups; and wet cupping.
- Static cupping - It is the most simple and the most common technique. Basically the cup is just left on the skin, there is no movement, and usually a practitioner will use many cups, on the back or the chest. This technique creates a constant pulling effect and pulls and stretches the fascia layer.
- Moving Cups- this technique has become very popular. Lotion or oil is used to lubricate the skin and allow the cups to move up and down and side ways. In my opinion this is the best way and very detailed way to treat the entire back in breaking up adhesions.
- Flash cupping – this technique is done quickly, barely left on the skin for more than 1 to 2 seconds. This creates a vacuum pumping action, which is help with areas that have poor circulation. This technique is done in one spot or all over the back and chest area, even on the limbs.
- Wet cupping – this is an old technique that is illegal for practitioners to practice in parts of the U.S., due to the fact blood is involved. The skin is broken with a needle or small blade and then a cup is placed over the wound to draw out the blood. There are many therapeutic effects to this technique but due to many blood-borne diseases it is highly discouraged in the U.S.
I have seen cupping therapy work wonders with many of my patients. I will often combine it with my acupuncture treatments or with massage. If you have chronic pain this modality may be a good treatment for you. I invite you to come in and give it a try.
Acujin team. Michael White is a student of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) at Pacific College of Oriental medicine. His specialty is in Chinese Medical Massage (Tui Na). He has a B.S in Physiology and Neuroscience from UCSD. He combines his knowledge of body science and TCM to create a unique approach to treating your health naturally.