What Is Cupping, and What Can It Do for You? (Part One)


What Is Cupping, and What Can It Do for You?

August 26, 2016 by Dr. Mercola

Story at-a-glance

- Cupping is an ancient medical treatment; its Chinese roots date back to 300 or 400 A.D. Egyptian and Middle Eastern cultures also have ancient records of the practice

- In cupping, suction cups of varying sizes are attached to the body. The suction draws stagnant blood to the surface of the skin and improves blood circulation through the tissues, which can speed healing

- Research has found cupping may benefit conditions such as chronic neck and shoulder pain, arthritis of the knee, herpes zoster, facial paralysis and cervical spondylosis

VIDEO: A look at Olympic “cupping” and “athletes’ pain

Olympic swimming fans everywhere are talking about cupping these days: a discussion brought on by Michael Phelps' and Cody Miller's purple-dotted shoulders.1 Olympic gymnast Alex Naddour has also been seen sporting the hickey-like marks, and many other world-class athletes admit to using cupping.

According to Reuters,2 sales of cupping therapy equipment rose by 20 percent in the three days following Phelps' big win.

The International Cupping Therapy Association also reported a "50 percent increase of healthcare practitioners seeking out their cupping certificates" during that same timeframe. Acupuncture physicians have also reported an increase in inquiries about the treatment.3

What Is Cupping?

Cupping is an ancient medical treatment; its Chinese roots date back to 300 or 400 A.D. Egyptian and Middle Eastern cultures also have ancient records of the practice.

Cupping is still regularly used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in Chinese hospitals and elsewhere. Suction cups of varying sizes are attached to the body, and the suction draws blood to the surface of the skin. Hence, the bruise-like marks.

The treatment is said to improve blood circulation, thereby speeding up healing, reducing pain and easing muscle soreness. According to Dr. Houman Danesh, a pain management specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, cupping helps "jumpstart the body's natural healing process."

Phelps and Naddour both swear by the treatment. At a recent press conference, Phelps said he gets cupping done before most meets,4 and Naddour told USA Today5 that cupping has been a "secret … that keeps me healthy. It's been better than any money I've spent on anything else."

Does Cupping Work for Pain?

While some media outlets have derided the athletes for promoting quackery, studies tend to support its use. For example, a 2014 review6 of 16 studies done on cupping suggests it can indeed be beneficial for pain. According to the authors:

"Cupping combined with acupuncture was superior to acupuncture alone on post-treatment pain intensity … Results from other single studies showed significant benefit of cupping compared with conventional drugs or usual care …

This review suggests a potential positive short-term effect of cupping therapy on reducing pain intensity compared with no treatment, heat therapy, usual care or conventional drugs."

Cupping May Offer Relief for Many Painful Conditions

A study7 published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine earlier this year found cupping significantly reduced chronic neck and shoulder pain, compared to no intervention.

In the cupping group, the intensity of the neck pain was reduced from a severity score of 9.7 to 3.6. Among controls, pain was reduced from 9.7 to 9.5. The study also evaluated measurable physical effects, including changes in skin surface temperature and blood pressure.

Both measurements showed statistically significant improvements among those who received cupping. An earlier study8 comparing cupping to progressive muscle relaxation found both treatments provided similar pain relief for patients with chronic neck pain after 12 weeks.

However, those who received cupping did report significantly greater "wellbeing" and higher pressure pain thresholds compared to those who practiced progressive muscle relaxation. Research9 published in 2012 also reported beneficial results on patients with arthritic knee pain.

A meta-analysis10 of 550 studies published in PLOS One that same year found cupping "is of potential benefit for pain conditions, herpes zoster, cough and dyspnea." According to the authors:

"Meta-analysis showed cupping therapy combined with other TCM treatments was significantly superior to other treatments alone in increasing the number of cured patients with herpes zoster, facial paralysis, acne and cervical spondylosis. No serious adverse effects were reported in the trials."

To be continued…

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Ayurveda Manual Therapies does cupping. Please call the office today for your cupping appointment!

Jessica Jensen           (863) 513-0203

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References and Sources:

Mercola, J. (2016). “What Is Cupping, and What Can It Do for You?.” Mercola.com. Joseph Mercola, published 26 August 2016. Accessed 25 September 2016.



Image Credit: National Institutes of Health (NIH). National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, “In The News: Cupping.” <https://nccih.nih.gov/news/cupping>. Published 19 August 2016. Accessed 25 September 2016.

1. Newsweek August 9, 2016

2. Reuters August 9, 2016

3. Naples Daily News August 14, 2016

4. New York Times August 8, 2016

5. USA Today August 9, 2016

6. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medical Sciences July 2014; 1(1): 49-61

7. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2016;2016:7358918

8. PLOS One June 2013; 7;8(6):e65378

9. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine October 12, 2012; 12: 184

10. PLOS One 2012; 7(2): e31793

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