I recently attended an educational course on cupping therapy. Although this course was part 1 in an optional series of 3, I believe I have learned enough about cupping to share with you some of the conditions it treats and why cupping is beneficial for these specific conditions. These benefits were shared with me by Lisa Dowling, BA, R. Ac.
Image on left of silicone cups used along the Iliotibial band.
What is Cupping Therapy?
Cupping therapy, or suction cupping, is the use of negative pressure to treat soft tissues of the body. Cups are either left 'parked', meaning they are stationary in a particular spot on the body (particularly good for adhesions and scar tissue), or used in a gliding motion that provides a neat new option for massaging muscles. There are two types of cupping:
1. Wet Cupping
This is the use of bloodletting as therapy. This is typically done using glass or ceramic cups, and involves the practitioner creating a small outlet (typically a pinprick) for blood and then applying cups in the same manner as dry cupping. The idea often is that allowing the blood to fully come through the tissue creates better circulation and 'draws out toxins'. It has also been shown to assist in cases of Herpes Zoster, Bells Palsy, and even acne (Source). This type of cupping is only covered by liability insurance for acupuncturists and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners.
2. Dry Cupping
Dry cupping is the use of a suctioning device on top of the skin. This may include glass cups, plastic cups, or silicone cups. With glass cups, a flame is used to create suction. A syringe pump is used to create suction in plastic cups. Silicone cups are simply compressed before being put on the skin where they expand to create suction. This type of cupping is unregulated, and can be practised by quite literally everybody and anybody. This is why it is important to have cupping done by a practitioner who has been education in human anatomy and physiology.
You should not receive cupping therapy if:
-You have or have had blood clots, or a family history of blood clots
-You have allergic or skin conditions
-You have open wounds or lesions (local CI)
-There is weak skin integrity (local CI)
Benefits of cupping therapy:
1. Fascial Restrictions, Scar Tissue, or Adhesions
Fascial and connective tissue adhesions can impair the body from moving properly. Layers of tissues become stuck together instead of gliding over one another. Using a pressure that pulls tissues up instead of compressing them downwards helps to break up the adhesions that may be sticking these tissue layers together. This is useful for low back pain, tight Iliotibial (IT) Bands, plantar fasciitis, and other areas with thick fascial tissue. Cupping therapy works well on scar tissue like laparoscopic surgery scars, Cesarean scars, and even old injuries. It helps to break up the scar tissue by adding a different plane of force.
2. Decreased Muscular Tension
Cupping opens capillaries and brings blood to the skins surface. This flushing of fluids can help to decrease tension in muscles. The negative pressure during gliding cupping also acts similar to massage and works to manually reduces tension in muscles.
3. Aids in Digestion/Reduces Constipation
Cups can be used in a gliding motion along the digestive tract to aid in the peristaltic activity of the colon. Cupping stimulates the colon to begin moving things along which can be very helpful for constipated clients.
Tendonitis is technically classified as inflammation of a tendon. More accurately it is an overuse injury that causes irritation to the tendon. This overuse causes further irritation and typically some scar tissue buildup, leading to more pain and reduced function. The suction (along with some rest!) can really help tendonitis. It can reduce the scare tissue caused by the tendonitis and relax the muscle itself.
5. Aids Lymphatic Drainage
Cupping is wonderful at reducing swelling. The suction causes fluid to flow, which can be beneficial for sinus drainage, swollen ankles, directing swelling from acute injuries, etc.
6. Increases Circulation
Cupping brings blood flow to the surface of the tissues. This can help to flush waste products from tissues and also help to reduce tension in muscles and other soft tissue structures.
7. Tension Headaches
By addressing the soft tissue tension that may be causing the headache, cupping can help to reduce the symptoms of tension headaches. There have been some claims that cupping can help migraines, but this remains unclear.
8. Varicose Veins
Although as an RMT it is outside of my scope to work on varicose veins, cupping has been demonstrated to reduce the appearance of varicose veins. See a TCM practitioner or Acupuncturist for more details on this condition specifically. Cups can be used in a gliding motion on top of veins or parked proximally to the veins location. They help to draw the fluid form the veins and reduce their symptoms and/or appearance. Do NOT try this without the guidance of a licensed, insured practitioner.
-Bruising! The suction from the cups can create non painful bruises that typically last about 3 days. Not everybody bruises; some people bruise every treatment, some people never bruise at all. Bruising is also dependent on the depth/intensity of the treatment.