Cupping Therapy

Micael Phelps swimming in pool with cup marks on shoulders

More and more athletes don circular cupping marks during competitive events. It may look like these athletes fought an octopus, but these marks are a sign of healing. While it may be popular in the health, beauty and wellness industries, cupping has been part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practice for hundreds of years.

Who can benefit from cupping?

Cupping was originally prescribed for the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis, wind cold diseases and for draining pustules. During the 17th century, cupping therapy was using to treat Gout and arthritis. Today, cupping is indicated for a number of symptoms, including common cold, cough, headache, hypertension, eye disorders, asthma, abdominal pain, nausea, low back pain, neck and shoulder pain, muscle pain, arthritic pain, issues with temperature regulation and fat loss. Most people seek out cupping therapy for muscular and soft tissue pain that occurs after rigorous physical training.


The history of cupping

Cupping has been used as a healing technique in numerous ancient cultures- Egyptian, Tibetan, Chinese, Korean and Oriental medicine [1]. The earliest recordings of cupping therapy is mentioned on Eber’s Papyrus, which dates back to 1550 BC ancient Egypt. Cupping has also been mentioned in a Taoist alchemy book, “A Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies,” which dates back to 281 AD. The ancient use of cupping originally utilized animal horns, bamboo and pottery for cups.

Types of cups

Today, cupping is performed using cups made from glass, bamboo, silicone and plastic.  Glass cups are best for withstanding medium level disinfecting solution. Glass cups are also best indicated for fire cupping- a technique which utilizes an alcohol swab and fire to create a temporary vacuum within a cup, which is then applied to the skin to create local stagnation. Silicone cups are easy to apply and are best for suited facial application. Bamboo cups are not common, as they are porous and absorb oils and moisture. Plastic cups are best suited for easy and fast application.

Cupping therapy application

Cupping is performed by moisturizing the skin (for patient comfort), creating a negative air vacuum within a cup, applying the cup to the skin, and leaving them in place for 5-15 minutes. Cups can be static, applied and removed quickly (fire cupping) or made to move along the larger muscle groups (slide cupping).

How cupping works

Though the mechanism of action of cupping therapy is not fully understood, there are theories in both Eastern and Western Medicine. According to one theory of Eastern medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine, cupping:

  • Moves Qi & Blood
  • Warms channels
  • Reduces swelling
  • Relieves pain
  • Dispels cold, damp and wind

According to one author of Western medicine, Guo et al. suggested

the immunemodulation theory: changing the microenvironment by skin stimulation could transform into biological signals and activate the neuroendocrine immune system [2]. Shaban and Rarvalia proposed the genetic theory, which suggested that skin’s mechanical stress (due to subatmospheric pressure) and local anaerobic metabolism (partial deprivation of O2), during cupping suction could produce physiological and mechanical signals which could activate or inhibit gene expression[3][4].


Results of cupping therapy

Cupping may leave marks that appear to be bruises. The marks may take up to seven days to fully heal. Results include increased blood flow, reduced swelling and inflammation, relief of pain and dispelling cold and dampness. Added benefits include warming of the channels and increased temperature regulation. Cupping treatment is effective at  breaking up myofascial adhesions (bands of scar-like tissue that form between two surfaces inside the body and cause them to stick together), increasing local blood flow and relieving pain.

Book your appointment at Healing Acupuncture Clinic in Denver and Parker, Colorado

Meet the acupuncturist

Hi, I’m Stephanie Salinas, a licensed acupuncturist in Denver, Colorado (ACU.0002701). My specialties include treatment of migraine, weight loss, facial cosmetic concerns, emotional imbalances and pain conditions. I live and practice in Denver by way of Champaign and Chicago, Illinois. I love reading, discovering new parks and weight lifting. If you have any questions about acupuncture or anything else, please don’t hesitate in reaching out!


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