After a rather notable Olympic athlete was photographed with distinct markings on his back after some consistent treatment with an element of ancient Chinese Medicine, there has been a lot of interest and claims both for and against surrounding the practice of ‘cupping’. The famed trend that this sparked in early 2016 saw a myriad of celebrities and famed sportspeople adding aggressive cupping to their recovery programs in order to get that extra edge in their training regimens
Many practitioners, doctors and medical journals have had their say on Cupping and whether they believe it to be ludicrous or of any benefit. The practice stems from Chinese Medicine practice and whilst it is being used for ultra performance athletes, the application of cupping is quite subtle and different. Far from being a tattoo like badge of honour to display in your training outfits, the practice has a practical application and can be used in a contemporary sphere for benefit and adding to health on a general level.
“Where there’s stagnation, there will be pain. Remove the stagnation, and you remove the pain.”
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, cupping is performed to move stagnated blood and get blood flow improved where there has been an area of poor qi flow. I have talked about this in another article. Quality of the qi or blood is of primary importance to TCM practitioners as they regard this flow as being vital to adequately nourish and enrich the body in general. This includes soft tissue, connective tissue and organs alike. As qi is the life-force of the system (human body) it stands to reason that the quality of the qi would create a more harmonious and efficient system.
Cupping is used to draw stagnant blood to the surface. Cupping works on the flow of humours within the body including and not limited to vital fluids, lymph, phlegm and blood. If there is stagnation here then pain becomes present as a result of poor flow. Cupping is used to shift the stagnation and get the fluids flowing again. It’s the flushing of the plumbing system, blasting pressure through a pipe to get rid of built up obstruction and debris that has been perhaps been caused by blockages or a build up of debris that gets flushed into pipes in the first place.
Gua sha is another form of therapy that is used that is very similar to the cupping techniques. Instead of using cups to create suction, a gua sha tool is a blunt instrument that is applied in a singular direction in order to bring blood to the surface of the skin and promote active blood flow. It is very similar to cupping only doesn’t use suction to create the movement of the fluid. The tool is slightly different but the application is quite similar. Gua sha is also a part of the TCM tool belt and used particularly to address inflammation in the body. Inflammation is borne of cold in TCM terms and Gua sha brings the cold to the surface so that it can be extracted through the skin. Bringing forth the internal heat helps to dispel any cold humours in the body and thus deal with conditions borne of cold.
There are many forms of cupping that range from simplistic use of dry cupping right through to cupping combined with acupuncture needles. These varied uses come about from thousands of years of use. It was not just the Chinese who took this form of therapy on board, but the first use dates back to ancient Egypt where cupping was used to treat individuals as well as in Africa, Ancient Greece and Iran. There has been documented use of the practice throughout history including in the middle ages of Eastern European Jewish cultures as noted by the Jewish Philosopher Maimonides, who wrote about the treatise in the 13th Century. So it is hardly a contemporary practice in it’s infancy.
Types of Cupping:
Dry Cupping – generally the most widespread of the applications, where glass or bamboo cups are placed over the back creating suction and drawing blood to the surface of the skin. There are different ways of creating the suction either by applying rubbing alcohol to the rim of the glass and then applying heat to create a seal or by use of suction cups that have external pressure applied to pull air from a specially formulated glass cup. The cups are sometimes moved across the skin to create a flow effect of humours and then can be left in place over certain areas of focus (usually an acupuncture point) to concentrate removal of stagnation for a more prolonged and focused treatment.
Wet Cupping – involves the letting of humours into the suction cup. This type of therapy was used widely to remove pathogens from the system and extricate toxic blood from the system. This was widely practiced in both Ancient China and Arabic cultures and was also documented in use throughout Ayurvedic medicine.
There are two variations employed
CPC which involves:
· Skin demarcation
· sterilization of the skin
· puncturing/scratching of the skin to bring blood out of the skin
· sterilization again
The second derivation of PC involves:
· skin demarcation
· sterilization again
In both cases blood is brought out of the skin in an effort to remove pathogen material from the body. In the PC derivation the cups are moved in a singular direction against the meridian flow or qi flow (ascending/descending) in an effort to maximise effect. PC cupping is more widely employed in the European history and application.
Cupping With Acupuncture
Cupping is applied over the top of acupuncture needles that are inserted into the skin along the TCM guidelines and Meridian/Acupuncture points. The cupping creates a method of needle retreat in the targeted point and utilising the suction action to gain extraordinary function from the application of the needle.
It of course depends on how you are assessed and what your ailment may be that is considered in the use of cupping and the applications that you can expect. Wet cupping is obviously a more aggressive form of treatment and perhaps more common in the Arabic use of these techniques whereas dry cupping is practiced more widely by practitioners in the western world. The movement of fluid through the body is a non-invasive way of encouraging flow and treatment of internal conditions. It works on the same principle as massage but in reverse. Rather than having pressure applied downward to relieve tension and target the nervous system for tension and adhesions, cupping creates tension in the reverse direction, pulling rather than pushing. The aim is the same, to move fluid and adhesions and create more space. In Cupping the aim is also to facilitate movement of humours in general which possibly makes it very akin to practices such as Bowen Therapy and lymphatic drainage, providing relief via movement of fluid.
So this may dispel rumours that cupping provides super human athletes with incredible powers that render them faster or more powerful than others. Instead it is a time honoured traditional practice that is addressing subtle imbalances and flow within the body. It does not create instantaneous function and incredible increase in power output or ability. It is one of the many techniques that can be employed in the use of helping the body to keep healthy balance and maximise vitality. So if you are interested, speak to our practitioners about this practice and whether it is applicable to you and your body.