Cupping is an ancient Chinese treatment that uses small glass cups (or, at the time, bamboo jars) as suction devices that are placed on the skin to disperse and break up stagnation and congestion. “Where there’s stagnation, there will be pain. Remove the stagnation, and you remove the pain.” The suction in the cups causes the skin and superficial muscle layer to be lightly drawn into the cup. Cupping is much like the inverse of massage – rather than applying pressure to muscles, it uses gentle pressure to pull them upward. For most patients, this is a particularly relaxing and relieving sensation. Once suctioned, the cups are generally left in place for about ten minutes while the patient relaxes. The suction and negative pressure provided by cupping helps loosen muscles and encourage blood flow. Most commonly it is used to relieve pains, stiff or sore muscles and relieve muscle spasms; this treatment is also valuable for the lungs, and can clear congestion from a common cold or help to control a person’s asthma. In fact, respiratory conditions are one of the most common maladies that cupping is used to relieve.
The side effects of cupping are fairly mild. Bruising should be expected, but skin should return to looking normal within 7-10 days.
Generally, cupping is combined with acupuncture in one treatment, but it can also be used alone. “Acupuncture and cupping, more than half of the ills cured,” is a famous Chinese saying.