Cupping is traditionally used to relax tight muscles, encourage healing, to relieve pain, and to alleviate the symptoms of colds, flus, and fevers. It has been part of Eastern and Western medical practice, and like acupuncture, is used by many Western physical therapists.The Chinese understanding of cupping is that it draws bad stuff out from deeper layers to the surface. The bad stuff could be blood that has changed because its flow has been restricted in a tight muscle, Heat associated with inflammation, or external pathogenic factors that are associated with colds and flus. This explanatory model is common to traditional practices throughout Asia, Europe, and Africa.
A possible biomedical explanation of how cupping helps with muscle tightness and pain is that it encourages phagocytosis to remove partially clotted blood. In this article, cupping guru Bruce Bentley reports that a tissue sample taken from an athlete that had been cupped at the Australian Institute of Sport, was analysed as containing “old blood”: “A Cupping Mark is not a Bruise”.
Cupping also releases anti-inflammatory modulators and healing factors (eg 1).
Cupping can also be used to remove internal pathogenic factors, or even to stimulate acupuncture points and meridians to boost metabolic function.
In a manner similar to Middle Eastern hijama therapy, sometimes a lancet or larger needle is used to puncture the skin, and the cup to encourage blood flow. This is also known as wet-cupping.
Dr Giles Sadler (TCM) has been taught cupping by an internationally recognised expert, and has himself conducted cupping workshops both in Australia and overseas.
(1) Lowe, Duane. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. 29. 10.1016. Cupping therapy: An analysis of the effects of suction on skin and the possible influence on human health.