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Cupping

What is Cupping?

Cupping therapy is a form of alternative medicine in which cups are placed on the skin to create suction. The cups can be made of a variety of materials, including: glass, bamboo, plastic, or earthenware

Cupping therapy can increase circulation and promote the healing of a broad range of ailments.

A vacuum is created inside the cup with a rubber pump. This causes the skin to rise and redden as blood vessels expand. The cup can be left in place for five to 10 minutes or moved around the skin in a massage-type effect.

History

Cupping therapy dates back to ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern cultures. One of the oldest medical textbooks in the world, the Ebers Papyrus, describes how the ancient Egyptians used cupping therapy in 1,550 B.C.

In general, Western medical societies are skeptical of the health claims made by cupping supporters. “Available scientific evidence does not support cupping as a cure for cancer or any other disease,” states the American Cancer Society. “Reports of successful treatment with cupping are mainly anecdotal rather than from research studies.”

But a 2012 study published in the journal PLoS ONE suggests that cupping therapy may have more than a placebo effect. Australian and Chinese researchers reviewed 135 studies on cupping therapy published between 1992 and 2010. They concluded that cupping therapy may be effective when combined with other treatments like acupuncture or medications in treating various diseases and conditions, such as:

Herpes zoster
Acne
Facial paralysis
Cervical spondylosis

The researchers acknowledge that many of the studies in their review may have contained some bias. They say better studies are needed to draw a definite conclusion.

Benefits of Cupping Therapy

The British Cupping Society says cupping therapy can treat a variety of conditions. This has not been backed up by studies. But the organization says cupping therapy is used to treat:

  • Blood disorders such as anemia and hemophilia
  • Rheumatic diseases such as arthritis and fibromyalgia
  • Fertility and gynecological disorders
  • Skin problems such as eczema and acne
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Migraine
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Bronchial congestion caused by allergies and asthma
  • Varicose veins
  • Supporters also believe that cupping therapy can reduce pain and inflammation throughout the body. And they say it can promote mental and physical relaxation and well-being.
  • Pain
  • Deep scar tissue in the muscle and connective tissues
  • Muscle knots
  • Swelling

Side Effects of Cupping Therapy

Cupping is considered to be relatively safe, especially when performed by trained health professionals. Potential side effects include:

Mild discomfort
Bruises
According to the British Cupping Society, cupping therapy should be avoided by the following groups:

  • Pregnant or menstruating women
  • People with metastatic cancer (cancer that has spread from one part of the body to another)
  • People with bone fractures or muscle spasms
  • The organization also says cupping therapy should not be applied to sites on the body that have:
    • A deep vein thrombosis
    • An ulcer
    • An artery
    • A pulse that can be felt

A health care provider may mistakenly think marks left from cupping therapy are evidence of physical abuse.

Like many alternative treatments, cupping therapy has not been extensively studied. Researchers say that most cupping therapy studies have been small and poorly designed. More studies are needed to prove or disprove claims of health benefits.