Cupping and TCM

Cupping Therapy

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It seems like every time you read something or turn on the TV there is someone showing off their cupping marks or doing a demonstration. Cups are easily acquired and viewed by many to not be harmful. However, I would caution you to seek the advice of a licensed acupuncturist prior to using. The reason being that even though there are benefits of cupping therapy, contrary to popular belief, cupping is NOT for everyone.

The benefits of cupping therapy

It can be very beneficial for pain. It can also help relieve toxins from the body and increase flood flow. However, in Chinese Medicine pain can be due to many different reasons. If the reason for your low back pain is due to deficiency then cupping is not for you, and in fact it can make you worse. Only a practitioner of Chinese Medicine can tell you if cupping would be beneficial for your situation. Secondly, cupping should ONLY be performed once the prior marks are gone or mostly gone. Constant cupping of the same spot before it has had a chance to heal could cause damage to the skin and muscle tissue.  There is such a thing as too much cupping.

So what is cupping?

Cupping is not something unique to just Chinese Medicine. Ever see the Godfather where Fredo is an infant and getting cupped because he has pneumonia? The truth is that cupping, in one form or another, appears in a number of societies.

There are many different types of cupping.  All of them cause suction on the skin.

  • Fire cupping uses glass jars that look like mini fish bowls. A flame is used to remove the oxygen from in side of the jar prior to putting it on the skin which causes suction. Historically, a cup would be made out of bone or bamboo.
  • Plastic cupping uses a small specially designed plastic cup with an apparatus that is used to remove the oxygen. For many practitioners this is the most preferred method, primarily because it is easier to control the amount of suction being created, and is easier to use on sensitive areas like the face.
  • Rubber cupping uses rubber cups. You commonly see professional athletes walking around with these. They are easily applied because they work much like a suction cup would.
  • Wet cupping uses the same concepts with fire cupping or with the plastic cups. However, prior to applying the cup a small incision is made in the skin. Once the cup is applied blood is pulled into the cup. Although it is a very powerful treatment, very few practitioners still do this because of blood born pathogens.
  • Sliding cupping. Cups are applied over an oil or massage cream, and then moved up and down the major muscles. Most commonly used on the back.

What does cupping do and what about those marks?

Cupping is used primarily to release stiff fascial tissues. It is used to remove “stasis” deep within the muscle tissue to help relieve pain and toxins. Cupping can also be used in facial rejuvenation treatments as a means to increase blood flow. Once again – do not try that at home unless you want a giant hickey on your forehead!

Depending on the amount of stasis present in the tissue you may have small marks varying from red to almost black. These marks last about a week or two. Arnica gel and a lot of water help them to dissipate a little faster. Like with a massage it is encouraged that you stay well hydrated after treatment so that the lactic acid from the muscle does not resettle.

About the author

Teri Calandra

Teri Calandra Dipl.Acu, MSTOM, L.Ac., LMT, RMT

Teri began her studies in energy medicine as part of her own personal development journey, and continues to to learn and integrate that knowledge into her practice. Teri is the founding practitioner of Calandra Center for Health & Wellness in Schaumburg, Illinois. She is licensed by the State of Illinois in acupuncture (L.Ac.), and board certified through the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).

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