Cupping is an ancient Chinese therapy in which a cup is applied to the skin and the pressure in the cup is reduced (either by heat or suction) in order to draw and hold skin and superficial muscles inside the cup. Sometimes, while the suction is active, the cup is moved, causing the skin and muscle to be pulled. This is called gliding cupping.
Cupping is applied to certain acupuncture points as well as to parts of the body that have been affected by pain, where the pain is deeper than the tissues to be pulled. Cupping has greater emphasis on the back acupuncture due to the ease with which it can be performed on the back. Most practitioners use the back shu points or bladder meridian and the dazhui. It is frequently used after acupuncture, blood letting, or plum blossom treatment.
Cupping is based on the meridian theory of the body. On one hand, cupping removes any stagnation in the body and opens the meridians so that qi can flow freely. On the other, it also helps to rejuvenate certain meridians and organs that are not functioning at their best. From a scientific standpoint, cupping is known to help activate the lymphatic system, promote blood circulation, and is good for deep tissue repair.
Glass cups are generally used for cupping, although bamboo cups are also used. Glass cups are fitted with a valve that attaches to a small hand-operated pump, allowing the practitioner to suck out air without having to rely on fire to depressurise the cup first. It also gives them greater control over the amount of suction. The modern name for cupping is baguanfa or suction cup therapy.
In order to allow the cups to move over the skin easily, oil is used. Oils that have been infused with extracts of medicinal herbs are particularly useful. The cups are applied at room temperature, and there is some friction generated with moving cups, causing a small but significant amount of heat, especially if a warming oil is also used.
Cups are generally left in place for ten minutes although the time can range from five to fifteen minutes. The skin will redden due to the congestion of blood flow. The cup is removed from the skin by pressing the skin on one side, allowing some outside air to enter and thus equalise the pressure. Some bruising on the skin where the rim of the cup was is to be expected.
Cupping is generally recommended for the treatment of pain, gastrointestinal disorders, lung diseases (especially chronic cough and asthma), and paralysis, although it does have application for other problems. Cupping should be done on fleshy areas of the body and should not be used on inflamed skin, where there is a high fever, convulsions or an increased tendency to bruise, or on the abdominal or lower back area during pregnancy. The cups should only be moved over fleshy areas of the body.
Cupping can affect the body up to four inches into the tissues, causing the tissues to release toxins, activate the lymphatic system, clear colon blockages, activate and clear the veins, arteries and capillaries, activate the skin, clear stretch marks, and improve the appearance of varicose veins.