Cupping at a Glance

Most of the validity of cupping as an alternative medical practice comes from its long history of use over the past 3,000 years. Cupping techniques have been used extensively to treat a range of disorders and symptoms, sometimes on their own, or other times in conjunction with other alternative practices.

Cupping works by expanding the capillaries and increasing the amount of fluid entering and leaving tissues. Besides this, cupping therapy seems to provoke a relaxation response in some people, which means it’s useful for lowering stress and its negative effects.

Cupping has worked for millions of people over many years, so here are five ways that cupping might be able to help you:

 Jennifer Cruz administers cupping on a client.

Jennifer Cruz administers cupping on a client.

1. Helps Reduce Pain

Cupping releases tissues deep inside the body, relaxes tense muscles and eases stiffness associated with chronic back and neck pains, migraines, rheumatism, and fatigue. Some athletes have been known to use cupping therapy to naturally improve performance and reduce stiffness, muscle cramps, joint pains and scar tissue caused by injuries.

Cupping targets soft tissue by applying local pressure to pain points and areas of swelling. As blood flow increases within vessels and capillaries, tissues receive much-needed nutrients and oxygen. Cupping practitioners use pressure, heat, suctioning and needles above or below the site of injury, allowing for energy to travel along the “channels” (meridians) that pass through the injury.

For help lowering pain, cups are commonly placed over the following areas: over the fleshy part of the shoulder blades, over the groin/loins, by the neck (for soothing tension headachestoothaches or migraines) or around the lower back.

2. Promotes Relaxation

It might seem counteractive, but cupping often helps alleviate physical complaints and allows people to enter a more relaxed state since it sedates the central nervous system. This is similar to acupuncture, which you might assume hurts and is uncomfortable but actually seems to help lower most patients’ stress responses and therefore offers protection against anxiety and depression.

Cupping is soothing  because the cups help lift pressure in tense muscles, which offers a relieving sensation just like receiving a deep tissue massage.

 Jennifer Cruz inserts the burning cotton into a glass cup. She’ll keep it there for two to five seconds, or until the glass feels notably warm.

Jennifer Cruz inserts the burning cotton into a glass cup. She’ll keep it there for two to five seconds, or until the glass feels notably warm.

3. Boosts Skin Health

Cupping is used to reduce herpes, cellulite, acne and skin inflammation. While studies haven’t shown it can necessarily help with weight loss, the fact that it tones and firms skin by improving blood flow and expanding capillaries makes it popular among celebrities and people in the spotlight who want to appear to have toned skin. As part of a skin-clearing or cellulite treatment, oil is commonly first applied to the skin before the cups are suctioned and moved around, bringing heat to the area along with various skin-healing ingredients depending on the type of oil used.

Because cupping improves blood flow and might help lower inflammation, some studies have found it to be equally or even more effective at treating acne compared to antibiotics.

4. Helps Treat Respiratory Issues and Colds

Commonly used to help nourish the lungs and clear away phlegm or congestion, cupping therapy can be useful for speeding up healing time from respiratory illnesses like the flu or common colds. Cupping helps improve immune function by moving blood and lymphatic fluid throughout the body, which is why it’s been associated with reductions in lung diseases (especially chronic coughs), allergies, infections and asthma.

Treating respiratory conditions like pulmonary tuberculosis is one of the oldest uses for cupping and was utilized long before prescriptions were available.

5. Improves Digestion

Acupuncture and cupping are both popular ways to improve digestion and reduce symptoms from disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This is primarily because they can lower a patient’s stress response, which is highly tied to healthy digestive functioning.

Throughout history, cupping therapy has been found to be beneficial for people with frequent stomach pains, diarrhea, acute gastritis, loss of appetite, gastrointestinal diseases and water retention. For digestive disturbances, cupping is commonly performed in the following areas: around the navel, over the bladder, around the kidneys or over the stomach.