Cupping is one of the oldest methods of Asian medicine, its earliest use dating back to 1550 B.C. Traditionally, cupping therapy was performed using hollowed-out animal horns or cups made of bamboo, iron, or pottery. In modern times glass, plastic, and even silicone cups are used.
Modern cupping therapy consists of placing a specialized cup over specific areas on the skin, using heat or a manual pump to create suction. This negative pressure draws the skin and superficial muscle layers into the cup, helping to loosen muscles and sedate the nervous system, stimulate blood flow, clear stagnation, and remove toxins from the body. As the skin is drawn up into the cup, the blood vessels at the surface of the skin expand. This may result in small, circular marks on the areas where the cups were applied. The color of the marks may range from slightly red to dark purple, depending on the length of treatment, the strength of the suction, and the condition being treated. These marks are usually painless and disappear within a few days of treatment.
Cupping is like the inverse of massage - instead of applying downward pressure to muscles as in a massage, it uses gentle pressure to pull them upward. This is an especially calming and relieving sensation for patients. Once suctioned, the cups are left in place for 10 to 15 minutes while the patient rests. Patients often feel relaxed and rejuvenated after a cupping treatment.
The above-mentioned method of cupping is known as "dry" cupping. Other techniques include "massage" cupping and "wet" cupping or Hijama. Massage cupping involves application of an oil onto the skin before placing the cup, which is then gently glided along the surface of the skin to achieve its therapeutic effect. Wet cupping (Hijama) involves puncturing the skin before applying the cup in order to extract a few droplets of blood. This method allows toxins to be extracted directly from the body.
Cupping is used to treat pain, stiff muscles, fatigue, arthritis, gynecological disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, and respiratory conditions such as bronchitis, asthma, and congestion. Cupping therapy can be performed as a stand-alone treatment or in conjunction with an acupuncture treatment.