Cupping therapy is defined as a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) within the world of holistic medicine, and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Cupping like many other CAM based treatments are provided as a conservative and alternative method towards improving human health through the reduction of pain when present, and tissue healing.
Cupping therapy is not new. It 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. However, it might be trendy now, and it is also getting recognized with the Olympics.
Michael Phelps, winner of 19 Olympic gold medals, sporting cupping bruises on his shoulders and back
At the summer games in 2016 Rio, Olympic atheletes decorated themselves with medals, and.circular bruises. Those round purple marks on the bodies of many (including the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time, Michael Phelp, gymnast Alex Naddour, and US gynastics team) are the result of cupping therapy, an ancient Chinese healing practice that's used to treat all sorts of ailments, from muscle soreness to blood diseases and arthritis. Phelps said he has cupping nearly every time he competes to help ease sore muscles.
It's not only athletes who use cupping. In 2004, Gwyneth Paltrow appeared at a film premiere revealing the signs of cupping on her back. Justin Bieber, Victoria Beckham and Jennifer Aniston have all been photographed with what look like cupping marks. And Nicole Richie made her dad, singer Lionel Richie try it. Cupping has also become an increasingly popular and effecctive treatment.
There are two different forms of cupping therapy, heating and mechanical.
The heating cupping involves a trained practitioner warms glass cups using acotton ball or other flammable substance, which is soaked in alcohol, let, then placed inside the cup. The hot cups are sealed off and held in place for five to 15 minutes on the patient's body while they cool down, which produces a vacuum effect.
The mechanical cupping is the one that the appropriate sized cups are placed on the patient’s body and suction is caused by pumping the air out. The mechanism used is simple. A connector links the cup to the pump that sucks the air out. Once the optimum amount of suction is created, the valve on the top of the cup is closed and the connector and pump are disconnected. This is a very common and popular type of cupping because there is no flame needed to create the vacuum and the administrator has complete control over the amount of suction.
Both heating and mechanical cupping are considered a type of “fixed cupping” because the cups aren’t moved around but rather sit still. Although cupping therapy includes different techniques, but they all share one common theme, and that is that a vacuum, or suction, (also known as "negative pressure") is created inside of a cup pressed on the skin. It is different from therapeutic massage in that, rather than the muscles being pressed down, they are pulled up.
The Mechanism of Effect and the Bruises Marks
The most common misunderstanding regarding one of the most powerful and beneficial after effects of cupping, is the marks that sometimes result.
When injuries occur deep in the muscle, bleeding often occurs causing deep bruises. There will also be edema in the area involving the coagulation of sticky proteins. The combining presence of these elements usually results in stagnation of circulation to the area - resulting in pain, dysfunction, and chronic conditions.
The vacuum formed by cupping draws up the old non-circulating stagnant blood and sticky fluids from the area, bringing them up to the surface and away from the injury so that healthy free circulation can be restored to the affected area, thus creating space for oxygen, living cells and nutrients for faster recovery.
Where there is dead, static blood, lymph, cellular debris, pathogenic factors, and toxins present in the body, cupping can leave marks which indicates that the stagnation or disease has been moved from the deeper tissue layers to the surface.
Specific mechanisms of acute metabolic tissue change and pressure pain thresholds have been studied with dry cupping. Such studies have demonstrated that while participants received cupping, observed increases in blood flow (hyperemia) occurred. This increased blood flow or vasodilatation does appear to also influence tissue temperature but more importantly, appears to increase capillary endothelial cell repair, accelerated tissue granulation, and angiogenesis (formation of new blood vessels) within the regional treated tissue.
What this can mean to a patient or athlete, is the potential for a rise of key ischemic (low oxygen) chemical mediators that are involved with promoting cellular/metabolic adaptation, and tissue recovery.
One of the biggest advantages to trying alternative practices like cupping therapy, acupuncture or massage therapy is that these methods don't pose the risk for unwanted side effects like pharmacological drugs or surgery do.
Although this procedure tends to leave bruises, those bruises are representations of the negative energy that exits the body. There have been studies to prove the benefits cupping beholds. Here are 5 benefits of cupping that you should avail:
- Helps Reduce Pain
Cupping is thought to release tissues deep inside the body, relax tense muscles and ease stiffness associated with chronic back and neck pains, migraines, rheumatism, and fatigue. Some athletes have been known to use cupping therapy together with acupuncture and therapeutic massage to naturally improve performance and reduce stiffness, muscle cramps, joint pains and scar tissue caused by injuries. Cupping targets soft tissue by applying local pressure to pain points and areas of swelling. As blood flow increases within vessels and capillaries, tissues receive much-needed nutrients and oxygen. Cupping practitioners use pressure, heat, suctioning and needles above or below the site of injury, allowing for energy to travel along the "channels" (meridians) that pass through the injury.
- Promotes Relaxation
It might seem counteractive, but cupping often helps alleviate physical complaints and allows people to enter a more relaxed state since it sedates the central nervous system. This is similar to acupuncture, which you might assume hurts and is uncomfortable but actually seems to help lower most patients' stress responses and therefore offers protection against anxiety and depression.
- Helps Treat Respiratory Issues and Colds:
Commonly used to help nourish the lungs and clear away phlegm or congestion, cupping therapy can be useful for speeding up healing time from respiratory illnesses like the flu or common colds. Cupping helps improve immune function by moving blood and lymphatic fluid throughout the body, which is why it's been associated with reductions in lung diseases (especially chronic coughs), allergies, infections and asthma.
- Improves Digestion
In additional to acupuncture, cupping is also a popular way to improve digestion and reduce symptoms from disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This might primarily be because they can lower a patient's stress response, which is highly tied to healthy digestive functioning. Throughout history, cupping therapy has been found to be beneficial for people with frequent stomach pains, diarrhea, acute gastritis, loss of appetite, gastrointestinal diseases and water retention. For digestive disturbances, cupping is commonly performed in the following areas: around the navel, over the bladder, around the kidneys or over the stomach.
- Boosts Skin Health:
Cupping is used to reduce herpes, cellulite, acne and skin inflammation. Because cupping improves blood flow and might help lower inflammation, some studies have found it to be equally or even more effective at treating acne compared to antibiotics.
Cupping might sound a bit scary to someone who’s new to the practice, but rest assured that cupping isn’t usually painful and most trained practitioners are very careful to use sterile equipment. During a cupping session, it’s common to feel some heat and tightness around the cup, but many people find this to actually be relaxing and soothing.
Cupping is fairly safe, as long as you go to a trained health professional. But you could have these side effects in the area where the cups touch your skin:
- Burns - Using air pump to create needed air pressure shoud prevent burns.
- Bruises - Most cupping marks will fade within 3-14 days
Skin infection - Using sterilized cups helps to reduce or possibly eliminate any chances of infections.
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