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Cupping, a therapy receiving more attention today, dates back to the ancient cultures of Egypt, China, and the Middle East. The Ebers Papyrus, which is considered as one of the world’s oldest medical textbooks, explains how cupping was used by ancient Egyptians in 1,550 BC.

What Is Cupping?

Cupping therapy is an alternative medical procedure in which a cupping therapist uses special cups on the patient’s skin to create suction. Usually, the cups are placed on the back or legs or arms and, to suck the skin into the cup, they are heated or pumped. The cups are made of glass, bamboo, earthenware, or silicone. To create suction, in most cases a flammable substance such as alcohol or herbs is put into the cups and set on fire. The therapist puts the cup upside down on the patient’s skin as soon as the fire goes out. The air inside the cup cools down and creates a vacuum. The vacuum causes the patient’s skin to rise and redden while the blood vessels expand. Generally, the cup remains on the patient’s skin for up to three minutes.
A particular form of cupping, called wet cupping, creates a rather mild suction. Here, the cupping therapist, after removing the cups, uses a scalpel to make tiny cuts on the patient’s skin. Afterwards, within the next suction, the therapist draws out a small quantity of blood. Cupping supporters believe, by doing this, harmful substances and toxins are removed from the body.

What Does Cupping Do?

Cupping helps promoting the blood flow and it is said to bring toxins to the surface of the skin. People get cupping for several purposes, which include neck and shoulder problems, lower back pain, hamstring, calf or groin strains, corks, bruising and general sports injuries, tightness in the chest and ribcage, and asthma.

What Does the Research Say About Cupping?

Scientific research on cupping is not yet conducted widely and studies are rather rare. However, an article published in 2015 in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, explains that cupping can help with acne, herpes zoster, and pain management.
Researchers from Australia and China reviewed more than 100 studies on cupping and came to the conclusion, that cupping may be useful when people get it in combination with other treatments, such as acupuncture or in conjunction with medications for various diseases, like facial paralysis or cervical spondylosis.

Possible Side Effects of Cupping

Cupping is said to be a safe therapy when received through a trained health professional. However, there might be some side effects in the area where the cups touch the patient’s skin. Phenomena that could occur are mild discomfort, burns, bruises, and skin infection.
In general, it might be useful to ask the cupping therapist what her/his training is and what are her/his experiences in using it, and if there are possible reasons why a patient should not receive cupping therapy.