You may have seen pictures of famous athletes or celebrities with red circular marks on their backs. While it may seem like the latest health trend, cupping is a practice that has roots going back to ancient Egypt. An early form of cupping is described in the Ebers Papyrus (c. 1550 BC), which is regarded as one of the oldest medical texts in the West. Around 400 BC, the Greek physician Hippocrates recommended cupping to treat various ailments. The Chinese herbalist and alchemist Ge Hong, who lived in the late 3rd to early 4th century AD, also advocated it.
So, what is cupping? Cupping is the practice of placing small cups on areas of the body to create a suction that loosens connective tissue, relieves muscle tightness, and promotes blood flow and circulation, helping those areas to heal more quickly.
How does cupping therapy work?
The types of cups used and the exact method have evolved over the centuries. Still, the theory remains the same: to create a vacuum or suction on the skin to draw stagnant blood and toxins from within the connective tissue (“fascia") or muscle to the surface for elimination. (Traditional Chinese medicine holds that it is the stagnation of blood or qi that causes pain.)
Traditionally, cupping involved heating the cup with fire to create the necessary negative pressure for suction and then placing the cup on the skin. At Be Well Acupuncture, we place small silicone cups along key acupuncture points and/or the area in pain and then use a hand pump on the top part of the cup to create the suction. Using a pump allows us to customize the intensity of the suction to your needs and comfort level. The number of cups and the amount of time they are left on your skin can vary depending on the needs of your treatment, although 5-7 cups left on for several minutes is common.
Other forms of cupping include needle cupping, which involves placing a cup over an acupuncture needle, and gliding cupping, in which the cups are moved over an area of the skin while the suction is active.
What's up with those marks?
While the marks left behind by cupping resemble a bruise, they do not hurt the way a bruise does. They can range in color from light pink to deep red or purple, depending on the level of stagnation and degree of muscle tightness, and will fade over time. How quickly they fade depends on many factors, such as the color (the darker the mark, the longer it takes to fade) and the person's activity level and water intake. Generally, they fade within 7-10 days.
For more information and answers to frequently asked questions, see the "Cupping" section under the "Services" tab on our website here. For additional questions or to discuss whether cupping may benefit you, contact our office. We're happy to talk about this "new-old" technique with you!