Cupping has its roots in Persian and Chinese medicine with records dating back 3500 years describing its use in a variety of conditions.
Plastic or glass cups are placed on the skin and a partial vacuum is created inside them. This vacuum draws the skin and superficial tissue into the cup which has a number of effects:
- It causes blood to rush into the area which increases oxygenation and nutrient delivery and also facilitates removal of stagnant material.
- There is also a small degree of trauma and inflammation that results from this pooling of blood in the tissue. This elicits the release of various anti-inflammatory chemicals in the body that stimulate a healing response – similar to that seen in acupuncture.
- There is a degree of mechanical stretching of the different layers of the tissue. This effect is very useful in treating adhesions and injuries and limitations in range of motion.
- Lastly, the generation of new blood vessels is stimulated. This can lead to long-term enhanced blood supply to an area, instead of just temporary relief of symptoms.
Besides the local effect of cupping, there is also a distant neurological effect. Just as described in the hydrotherapy and acupuncture articles, there exists in the body various different reflex circuits. Cupping makes use of these reflexes to elicit an effect on a site distant to the location of the cup. By cupping an area of the skin innervated by a particular spinal or cranial nerve, an effect can be elicited in the other organs and tissues served by that nerve. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, cupping is also used along the path of acupuncture meridians to regulate the flow of Qi through them.
Cupping is generally quite relaxing and can have dramatic and lasting results in a variety of applications.