Cupping seems to increase with popularity every 4 years when the Olympics comes around as the various swimmers from Australia, the United States, and China step out with strange dark marks all over their backs. But what is cupping, and why are they using it?
Cupping is a rather simple technique. It requires a jar or "cup" of some kind with a smooth edge and fire in order to take away the oxygen inside the cup to make a vacuum. Some practitioners these days use plastic pumps to suck the air out as well - a modern method which unfortunately does not produce as significant results and one where the practitioner has less control of the strength of the suction. There are many methods of cupping, from stationary cupping, to moving or sliding cupping, to quick "on-off" style cupping. All produce different results for different ailments.
Traditionally, cupping has had numerous usages and has been in practice for many thousands of years throughout Central and Eastern Asia, the Middle East, and South America, to name a few. People have sought this therapy for pain and discomfort of the muscles and fascia (including spasms and contractions of connective tissue), many types of sporting injuries, common cold to release congestion in the chest, to assist with blood letting, and often in paediatrics to help with gastric function in children. If practiced by a professional, who has undergone the respective training provided in Chinese medical courses, cupping is a very safe method. Be sure to review your practitioners credentials: If they are a registered Chinese medical practitioner (required in Australia) then they have trained appropriately, if they have done cupping as part of a basic massage, physiotherapy, or weekend course then avoid these practitioners.
Why are olympic swimmers and other athletes using cupping therapy?
Easy, cupping works. It is one of the most effective soft tissue manipulation techniques. However, in order for it to work it must applied for the right reasons. In Chinese medicine it is often applied for "cold" (read previous blog on this here) where a significant contraction has occurred at the tendon or muscular layer. If this discomfort is deeper, it will unlikely work as well. So a diagnosis is often necessary in order to know exactly how strong the cups need to be or whether a different intervention is necessary.
Does it hurt?
No. It can feel tight, there may even be some pressure, but there is no pain involved in cupping when it has been done correctly. In fact, many find it relaxing and the cups should only remain in place for a matter of minutes (3-10 minutes in most cases). The red or purple marks you see is called "Sha" in Chinese and is a sign of the underlying stasis at the area. It is not bruising due to a trauma but obviously a marking on the skin due to suction (think of a good old "love bite"). The marks will remain for some time, however, so aesthetically can be a turn off for people. I always suggest to my patients to let me know if this is an issue and we can work around it by either using a different method or a lighter technique. The marks will only last for a few days, if that.
Where can I get it and how much does it cost?
Cupping can be applied to most places of the body that aren't covered in hair or exceptionally boney. While I was working at hospital in China we would use cupping for assisting the treatment of facial paralysis and much smaller cups were applied all over the affected area. You can actually receive cupping at acupuncture clinics around Australia (be sure they are registered) such as Classical Acupuncture Sydney (surprise!). A singular cupping session is $70 but if used in conjunction with existing treatments, such as Acupuncture then there is no extra charge.
If you have any questions then please email us at email@example.com and if you would like to book you can do so by clicking here! (Just book for acupuncture and note in the booking it's for cupping only).
In Good Health,
Dr. David White
Classical Acupuncture Sydney