One of natural medicine’s most effective tools for relieving pain is an ancient healing tradition known as Cupping or fire-cupping. Besides pain, this form of therapy uses therapeutic cups to treat injured areas, detoxify the body, boost circulation, and bring about myofascial relief. If you want to improve your circulation, or treat fibromyalgia or back pain, this modality may be the right one for you. Cupping is used for common ailments like fatigue, neuralgia, chronic headaches, anxiety, high blood pressure, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, and back pain.
Cupping therapy has been used for over three millennia by the great ancient civilizations of Greece, China, and Egypt. At first, hollow animal horns were used in lieu of cups. Later on, ceramic and bamboo were utilized. Today, fire-cupping practitioners now use rounded smooth edged glass cups (to prevent the patient from being cut). The cups used today have a built in pump to easily suction out the air from inside the cups. The practitioner uses a hemostat to hold a cotton-ball and soaks the cotton-ball in 70 percent rubbing alcohol. The ball is then set alit and placed inside the glass cup for just a second. The fire consumes the oxygen inside the cup and the practitioner very quickly puts the cup on the back of the patient. Each cup used in the treatment follows the same process. The longer the fire is maintained inside the cup, the more oxygen is exhausted, and the tighter will the vacuum become.
There are different forms of cupping: wet cupping, sliding cupping, and stationary cupping.
In wet cupping, also called blood cupping, tiny incisions are made on the skin with a lancet. Then the cup is placed over the incisions and the vacuum sucks the blood out. This technique isn’t as commonly used as the other forms. It is basically a type of bloodletting.
Massage oil is first applied on the patient in this type of cupping. Then a couple of fire-cups are placed on the patient’s back. The oil serves as a lubricant when the practitioner slides the cups around the areas of the back where tightness and pain is felt. Sliding cupping is mostly used for myofascial release and back pain. The procedure tends to leave little reds mark on the site of treatment. It is also a good way to treat colds and can be used alongside your acupuncture treatments.
In stationary cupping, the cups stay in one area of the patient’s body and not moved. This procedure is mainly used for detoxification, chronic headaches, and muscle aches. This type of cupping can leave round marks where the cups have been applied. These marks should not be mistaken as bruises and they don’t feel like bruises either. Based on the type of cupping you get, the degree of suction applied, and the how long the cups remain on the back, the marks from the therapy may be visible for about three days to a couple of weeks.
While cupping marks, as previously mentioned, are not bruises, the treatment opens up the pores on the skin, so it may be a good idea to keep treatment site covered until the marks have disappeared. Also, do not allow the treated areas to be exposed to extreme elements. This may mean not exposing your back to the wind and not swimming in cold water. You’re advised not to eat dairy products, greasy foods, and deep-fried after the treatment. All forms of cupping provide the benefit of detoxification. After the treatment eat lots of steamed veggies and clear broth soups. Without overeating supply your body with as much nutrient-packed foods as possible.
If you’re considering having fire-cupping, be sure that the clinic you choose visit is clean and reputable. Between uses, all cups should be cleaned thoroughly.
Scott Paglia is a licensed and board certified acupuncturist in Bellingham, WA and provides master level pulse diagnosis, Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture in Whatcom County, WA.