There are several modalities Chinese medicine uses to address specific health issues. The ones most commonly used include acupuncture, diet therapy, massage, and herbal medicine. Another Chinese medicine treatment known as cupping has recently gained enormous popularity due in large part to the recently concluded Rio Olympics that saw US swimmers sporting big red spots on their back and shoulders, spots that indicated their use of cupping therapy. Before that, some of you may have seen photos of Hollywood stars like Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow, and yes, even Justin Bieber with the same bright purplish red spots.
The Chinese have been using cupping therapy for thousands of years. It was initially done using bamboo wood or cattle horns. To generate pressure inside the bamboo or horn, the ‘cups’ where either ignited with fire or boiled in water to remove the air and suck the cups to the skin. The cups were often used to treat boils by drawing out blood and pus. In the beginning, cupping was used as an adjunctive treatment for ancient Chinese surgery. Later on, practitioners have found it useful in remedying illnesses and it evolved into a unique healing technique.
The ancient book of Bo Shu written around the time of the Han Dynasty was the first to mention cupping therapy. It was also mentioned in several ancient texts later on. Hundreds of years later, another famous document, the medical text, Su Sen Liang Fang discussed cupping therapy as a potent treatment for chronic cough and a successful remedy for venomous snake bites.
Extensive clinical experience that has been amassed over tens of hundreds of years has led to the rise in popularity in cupping therapy’s several clinical applications. Presently, this modality is used to address specific skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema, indigestion issues, chronic cough, the common cold, asthma, and arthritic symptoms.
In China, there is a saying that goes “Greater than half of maladies cured through cupping and acupuncture in West Orange.” Over two centuries later after the Bo Shu was written, the book Ben Cong Gang Mu She Yi was compiled by a Chinese doctor named Zhao Xue Ming. This book depicted in detail the origin and history of the various forms of cup shapes and types of cupping as well as their applications and functions.
There has been a rapid development of cupping therapy in the Chinese mainland. Its effectiveness was validated in the 1950’s by Soviet acupuncturists and Chinese researchers and was made an official form of treatment for hospitals throughout China.
As more and more people are looking for alternative treatments to address their specific health issues, the use of cupping and other traditional Chinese medicine treatments is growing in popularity by the day. Almost all the techniques and tools used in cupping today are exactly the same as the ones used thousands of years ago. Today, suction cups are used and some mechanized or electronic pumps have been invented; but practically an overwhelming majority of cupping practitioners still uses glass, bamboo, or horn cups. With the exception of a few acupuncturists, the practice of cupping has essentially remained the same as in ancient times for the main reason that it is the de facto mode of treatment in rural communities where very little or no modern medicine is accessible.
Cupping targets the circulation of blood and vital energy (Qi). It draws out pathogenic elements such as heat, wind, damp, and cold and eliminates them. This treatment opens the skin pores and promotes the flow of Blood and Qi, accelerating the expulsion of pathogenic elements through the skin itself.
In a cupping procedure, the patient lies in a prone position in a bed or table. The acupuncturist first rubs the patient’s back with fragrant oil and the cups are then applied. The cups are heated and then placed in the back of the patient. The cups are firmly put in place and generate a suction effect on the skin. The acupuncturist moves the cups up and down on the patient’s back. The cups are left in their place for a certain amount of time then gently removed once the acupuncturist has determined enough time has passed for the treatment to take effect.
Oftentimes, the therapy provides immediate results. The bright purple suction cup marks that appear on the treated parts of the body vanish after a few days and so too will the patient’s condition.