The origin of cupping is largely unclear and often contested. Cupping is mentioned in ancient Chinese, Egyptian, and Iranian medical writings, so the practice does not have a clear point of inception. Cupping philosphy overlaps with both reiki and tai chi*. Similarly to reiki, cupping is thought to manage the body’s qi, the universal energy or life force in all bodies. Like tai chi, cupping balances the body’s yin and yang.

Cupping practitioners place cups on a patient’s skin, creating suction and facilitating blood flow. The cups are glass and rounded like a sphere, with an opening that can be suctioned to skin. There are two methods of cupping used in modern cupping treatment. Dry cupping uses suction only. Wet cupping uses suction and controlled medicinal bleeding. A care team will determine the best cupping method for a patient’s needs.

Patients are advised to eat lightly for the two to three hours prior to a cupping session in order to reduce feelings of dizziness and nausea. A typical cupping treatment session follows a repetitive pattern of heating and suction.  Practitioners will use either heat sources or rubber pumps to create a suction effect. Heating methods, which often use herbs or alcohol inside the cup, are considered more traditional, while rubber pumps are more modern.The cup is first placed onto the patient’s skin, then heated. The heat source is removed. As the air contained within the cup starts to cool, a vacuum effect begins to take place. The cup is placed on the skin anywhere from 3 to 10 minutes, depending on the session, and repeated in different locations on the body as necessary.

There are light risks associated with cupping treatments. The patient’s skin will likely turn red in spots where cupping is performed. Practitioners will provide ointment and wrappings for irritated areas. Cupping can induce dizziness and nausea during and just after the session. Practitioners can reduce the risk of infection with proper cleaning methods. Patients are also at risk for scarring and hematoma from cupping. Patients can prioritize cupping after-care to reduce side effects. 

The main benefit of cupping treatments is pain relief. Patients with chronic pain could seek out cupping for muscle aches. Cupping might help relieve symptoms from conditions like dyspnea, acne, cervical spondylosis, facial paralysis, and shingles. Additional research is needed to supplement these findings. Cupping is not a cure for any illness, but can help alleviate symptoms. This practice is best utilized as part of a supplementary care plan with other treatments.

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