What is Cupping? How does cupping work?

What is cupping? How does cupping work?

Cupping therapy, also known as myofascial decompression, is a technique common in alternative medicine that involves placing small glass cups on the body to create a suction that draws skin and underlying musculature into the cup. By pulling on taut and inflamed soft tissue, cupping therapy helps tense muscles relax while improving local circulation and function.

What exactly is cupping? How does Cupping treat the body?

Cupping therapy, also known as myofascial decompression, is a technique common in alternative medicine that involves placing small glass cups on the body to create a suction that draws skin and underlying musculature into the cup. By pulling on taut and inflamed soft tissue, cupping therapy helps tense muscles relax while improving local circulation and function. This in turn enhances the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to affected areas and expedites the removal of toxins. Primarily used as a form of deep tissue massage, cupping addresses issues involving blood flow, chronic and acute pain, muscle tension and inflammation. The benefits include enhanced immune function, increased relaxation and reduced stress.(1) When combined with acupuncture, cupping becomes even more effective. The integration of these two treatments stimulates the release of endogenous endorphins, which flow through the body and to the cupped region, resulting in efficient chronic and acute pain relief felt throughout the body.(2, 5) 

In recent years, cupping therapy has gained popularity, amongst athletes in particular, for its ability to improve performance and promote recovery. The suction created by the cups can help break up scar tissue and adhesions, which enhances flexibility and increases range of motion. It has been proven that cupping increases red blood cell count as well. This enhances oxygen and nutrient delivery, which expedites recovery in soft tissues like muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia.(1)

where does cupping come from?

Cupping therapy has diverse origins – early documentation describing and art visually depicting the practice can be found in both Egypt and China as early as 2000 BCE. The practice was likely used in both regions during similar times and later spread from there.(3) The next report of cupping appears in Greece by historian and geographer Herodotus, who mentioned the practice numerous times in his writings as a treatment for headaches, lack of appetite, poor digestion and abscess drainage. Later, famous ancient Greek physician Hippocrates would expand on the practice. Hippocrates discovered that cupping was more useful for musculoskeletal issues of the back and extremities, a treatment reminiscent of the modern applications of cupping therapy that athletes seek today.(2)

Cupping therapy was practiced in Europe, Asia and Africa throughout ancient and early modern history. It only fell out of practice during the 19th century in the west, likely due to a focus on purely western-based medical practices and thinking. Recently, due in part to its popularity among high profile athletes and a more open attitude towards traditional Chinese medicine practices, cupping therapy has reclaimed a role in contemporary medicine. The breadth and scope of research being done on cupping therapy, both as a standalone treatment and in conjunction with other holistic therapies, has rapidly expanded over the last decade – as has its practice.(3) 

Cupping's effect on circulation

Why is Cupping so Popular?

In recent years, cupping therapy has exploded in popularity among those seeking improved wellness and elite athletes pursuing a boost in their recovery from sports and training. While ConorMcGregor and your everyday neighborhood jogger train for different reasons, the truth of the matter is that they are both onto something. Cupping therapy is far more than a trendy practice, it is a time-honored tradition that is beginning to get the recognition that it deserves. 

Beyond Conor McGregor, other athletes such as Steph Curry (nine-time NBA all-star, holder of four championship rings and two time MVP) and Michael Phelps (the most decorated Olympian ever) are also known to frequently utilize cupping. The U.S. Women’s Gymnastics teams also use cupping as a routine part of their training regiment and recovery. 

Cupping’s recent upswing in popularity is due to the fact that its practice, despite origins partly in the West, has been largely passed on by eastern medical practitioners. Since the methodologies and practices were repressed and studied with suspicion rather than academic curiosity until the 1990’s, cupping therapy fell victim to the very same cultural bias that held acupuncture back. 

The resurgence of cupping therapy’s popularity is a testament to its effectiveness. As more people, including prominent athletes, embrace the benefits of cupping therapy, it will continue to gain traction as a trusted and valuable treatment. In short, cupping’s recent popularity is not a new-wave fad, but rather a return to traditional practices and principles.

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Sources

  1. Al-Bedah, Abdullah M N, et al. “The Medical Perspective of Cupping Therapy: Effects and Mechanisms of Action.” Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 30 Apr. 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6435947/.

  2. Mehta, Piyush, and Vividha Dhapte. “Cupping Therapy: A Prudent Remedy for a Plethora of Medical Ailments.” Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 10 Feb. 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4488563/.
  3. Qureshi NA;Ali GI;Abushanab TS;El-Olemy AT;Alqaed MS;El-Subai IS;Al-Bedah AMN; “History of Cupping (Hijama): A Narrative Review of Literature.” Journal of Integrative Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28494847/.

  4. Trofa, David P, et al. “The Evidence for Common Nonsurgical Modalities in Sports Medicine, Part 2: Cupping and Blood Flow Restriction.” Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Global Research & Reviews, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Jan. 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7028774/.

  5. Kim, Jong-In, et al. “Cupping for Treating Pain: A Systematic Review.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : ECAM, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2011, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3136528/.

  6. Marcin, Ashley. “What Is Cupping Therapy?” Healthline, Healthline Media, 23 Dec. 2021, https://www.healthline.com/health/cupping-therapy.