Cupping is an ancient form of therapy based on the meridian theory in which special cups are places on the skin of the body to create suctions. It removes any stagnation in the body and opens up the meridians thereby allowing Qi to flow freely. According to Chinese medicine theory, cupping is the best way of opening up the meridians on a person’s back to rejuvenate the body and to improve organ functions.
Modern theory suggests that cupping enhance tissue metabolism by increasing the blood circulation of the affected site. A paper published in Journal of Advance Pharmaceutical Technology & Research stated that "Cupping also proved to be a good exercise to specific muscles besides improving their blood supply." The study proved cupping to be a good analgesic and anti-inflammatory with efficacy better than acetaminophen. Thus, cupping can be recommended for other painful conditions besides being a line of treatment for osteoarthritis (1).
Glass cups are used for cupping in our clinic because they produce strong suction effect and are easy to sterilize. Glass cupping involves setting a cotton ball on fire. As the fire goes out, the cup is put upside down on the skin. A vacuum effect is created when the air inside the cup cools down. This causes the skin to rise and redden as the blood vessels expand.
There are many different cupping techniques:
Stationary Cupping is most commonly used in our clinic; in which heated glass cups are placed on the skin for 5 to 15 minutes depending on the conditions. Stationary Cupping is generally recommended for musculoskeletal conditions (such as back pain, shoulder pain, sciatica, tight calf or hamstring muscle), respiratory disorders (such as the common cold, flu, bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia), digestive disorders including abdominal pain, weight issue, and many others including paralysis. It is also used to balance and rejuvenate the body.
Sliding Cupping is mainly for loosening up tight muscles and releasing rigid tissues and stubborn knots. It involves applying oil to the skin and sliding the Cups from one area to another to cover a larger area. It also produces more pulling effect compared to stationary cupping and is highly recommended to ease the tensions, aches and pains on back and shoulder.
Flash Cupping is the technique where the cups are placed on the body and then quickly removed, in order to provide a milder stimulation. This technique is mainly for children, seniors and people with weak constitution.
Wet Cupping is generally used to remove harmful substances and toxins from the body to promote healing. It involves drawing out a small quantity of blood by making light, tiny cuts on the skin before the cups are put on the skin. It is highly recommended for acute sprain and strains accompanied by blood congestion.
Reference (1) Khan, A. A., Umar Jahangir, U. & Urooj, S. (2013). “Management of knee osteoarthritis with cupping therapy”, Journal of Advance Pharmaceutical Technology & Research. 4(4): 217–223.