WHAT THE HELL IS CUPPING AND WILL IT HELP ME RECOVER?
Lisa Latham of Third Space reveals what the traditional Chinese medical technique can really do for you.
A HISTORY LESSON
Cupping is an ancient art that is practiced all over the world and has existed in many cultures for centuries. When you think of traditional Chinese medicine it brings to mind acupuncture and the use of natural herbs as healing remedies – well, cupping is a lesser-known treatment that is also part of Oriental medicine.
One of the earliest documentations of cupping can be found in A Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies, which was written by a Taoist herbalist and which dates all the way back to 300 AD. It was not until the 1950s that cupping was established as an official therapeutic practice across hospitals in China after research conducted by Chinese and former Soviet Union acupuncturists confirmed its effectiveness.
In recent years, cupping has been growing in popularity, with celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston swearing by it, not forgetting superstar swimmer Michael Phelps, who used it regularly to power him to Olympic glory in the pool.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Cupping is the term applied to a technique that uses small glass, plastic or rubber cups as suction devices. These are placed on the skin to disperse and break up stagnation and congestion by drawing blood to the surface.
In dry cupping, the therapist will simply place the suction cups on the skin. In wet cupping, the practitioner will make a small incision on the skin and then apply the suction cup to draw out small amounts of blood.
There are several ways that a practitioner can create suction in the cups. One method is using alcohol-soaked cotton pads, that are lit to create a flame and this is put into the glass cups to create a vacuum. Rubber cups can be used by squeezing them to apply them to the skin and the plastic cups usually have a pumping device to create the suction required. Once the suction has occurred, the cups can be gently moved across the skin.
Cupping is the inverse of massage – rather than applying pressure to muscles, it uses gentle pressure to pull them upward. Once suctioned, the cups are generally left in place for anything between 1-10 minutes, depending on the condition being treated, while the patient relaxes.
A bit like massage pressure, the cups can be applied with a light, medium or strong pressure – which explains why some athletes pictured post-cupping have circular red marks on the skin. These aren’t as painful as they look and the skin will return to looking normal within a week.
AND WILL IT BENEFIT YOU?
The suction and negative pressure provided by cupping can loosen muscles, encourage blood flow, and sedate the nervous system (which makes it an excellent treatment for high blood pressure). Cupping is also used to relieve back and neck pains, stiff muscles, anxiety, fatigue, migraines, rheumatism, and even cellulite. If you’re looking for more straight-down-the-line gym benefits, then massage practitioners also apply cupping for muscular stiffness, injury, pain and structural complaints.
For those wary of ancient methods as hokum, don’t worry, the practice has caught up to modern standards, too. To make sure, the simplest solution is to visit a reputable practitioner who follows the strict guidelines laid out by the British Acupuncture Council. Book a Cupping treatment at Third Space Spa or Third Space Medical.