Cupping has become a bit of a fad among the Hollywood elite, however cupping is actually an ancient healing art dating back to the about 300 BCE. Herodotus (Greek historian, 400 BCE) prescribed cupping for headaches. Hippocrates even preached the benefits of cupping. Cupping has also been widely used in Asia, the Middle East, and European countries in many different healing systems for centuries. In Europe, cupping therapy was customarily used by monastery practitioners and folk healers.
Ancient practitioners of cupping used animal horns. Later, around the time of the early Qing Dynasty (17th century), practitioners began to experiment with other tools such as bamboo and ceramic with which to do cupping. Now, thick glass cups are generally used because they do not break as easily as ceramic, they will not deteriorate like bamboo, and they are easily sterilized.
How its done
Cupping is also referred to as "fire cupping," which sounds a bit intimidating, however fire never touches the patient's skin. Commonly, suction is created inside the glass cup by using an alcohol-soaked cotton ball held with hemostat, lighting it to create a small flame, and introducing that flame into the cup. The cup is then quickly placed on the patient's skin, and as the air inside the cup cools, it creates a vacuum seal. The flame never gets close enough to the patient's skin to burn, and the procedure is generally painless.
Once the cups are suctioned onto the patient's skin, they are most often left in place for 5-10 minutes. The practitioner may also elect to gently move the cups across the skin ("gliding cupping"), which provides a sensation similar to that of a massage.
What it's used for
Generally, cupping is combined with acupuncture in one treatment, but it can also be used alone. The suction and negative pressure provided by cupping can loosen muscles, encourage blood flow, and sedate the nervous system. Cupping is used to relieve back and neck pains, stiff muscles, anxiety, fatigue, migraines, arthritis, and even cellulite. For weight loss and cellulite treatments, oil is first applied to the skin, and then the cups are moved up and down the surrounding area.
Cupping can also be used to treat asthma and the common cold, as it is very effective in clearing lung congestion.
How it works
Like acupuncture, cupping most often follows the lines of the meridians. Cupping is useful in "opening" the meridians and allowing the free flow of qi and blood. Cupping is an incredibly effective deep-tissue therapy, and is thought to affect tissues as deep as four inches from the skin's surface. It helps release congestion from the tissues, and restore healthy blood flow.
But what about the "bruises?"
The greatest misconception about cupping (similar to gua sha) is that the treatment causes bruises. As explained on the "Gua Sha" page, cupping similarly does not cause bruising. Bruising is caused by trauma to the tissues. The redness (and, in some cases, purpleness) seen after a cupping treatment is the result of red blood cells being pulled via suction to the surface tissues - much like a "hickey." The redness caused by cupping is soon reabsorbed by the body and leaves no lasting marks. This process may take as little as one day, or as much as 2 weeks, depending upon the level of stasis in the tissues.