Discovering the Benefits of a 3,000-Year Old Cupping Therapy

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With the rising cost of healthcare and the ever-increasing concern for many unnecessary side effects of drugs and other pharmaceutical substances, it is not surprising to learn that more and more people are looking for safer yet equally effective alternatives to expensive medicines and medical treatments. And while many of these so-called alternative healthcare are labelled as pseudoscience by Western medical experts, it is very hard to discount the fact that many of these have been used by so many civilizations since the ancient times. One of these alternative healthcare methodologies is cupping therapy.

While you may think that the cupping therapy clinic in Ballarat is a very trendy way to reduce pain, promote relaxation, boost the health of the skin, treat colds and other respiratory problems, and improve digestion, it is not anything new. In fact cupping therapy has been extensively used in ancient Egyptian, Persian, and Chinese civilizations. One of the earliest known descriptions of how this ancient therapy is performed was written in the Ebers Papyrus putting the practice to well over 1,550 BC.

Don’t get me wrong but I wasn’t at all thrilled with the idea of putting cups on my skin and then watch it bulge like some puffer fish, all red and pockmarked. If you’re like me who’s afraid of even the slightest tint of blood coming out of your skin, then this is not for you.

But then again, the whole idea is to draw out toxins that are present in the blood. Cupping works by creating a vacuum inside the cup that forms a seal with our skin. There are variety of methods to achieve suction. The first method is by heating the inside of the cup before applying it over the skin. As the cup cools, it creates suction and pulls on the skin underneath the cup. The second one is by using commercially available rubber pumps. Air is drawn out from the cup to create a vacuum which pulls the skin outward. The third method is known as the wet cupping technique. Here, gentle suction is applied over the skin using either of the first 2 methods for about 3 minutes. The cup is then removed and a small incision is made on the engorged skin. This releases the blood; hence, the term wet cupping. This is repeated on another part of the body.

I tried reading on the various scholarly articles that will support cupping therapy as an effective alternative to expensive medications. Believe you me the dearth of scientific information is not surprising, to say the least. Nevertheless, I found out in a 2015 article of the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine that cupping is beneficial in the management of the following: pain, acne, and herpes zoster.

Then I encountered a PLoS One article about Australian and Chinese researchers reviewing 135 studies in 2012 showing that cupping therapy is effective in the management of the above-mentioned conditions as well as facial paralysis and cervical spondylosis especially when combined with acupuncture or the standard treatment regimen. While the same researchers noted that the results of these studies may be biased, they nonetheless provide some form of assurance that cupping therapy can indeed be beneficial.

On a more personal note, I received cupping therapy more as an adjunct to the treatment of my low back pain. I was on a daily dose of very powerful nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and it was taking its toll on me. My doctor actually suggested the cupping therapy.

The whole cupping experience gave me a whole new perspective on alternative medicine. At the back of my mind, who needs scientific proof when personally I know it works? Cupping relieves pain by improving the oxygenation of the tissues that are painful. You can think of it as creating a road for oxygen to pass through. When we are in pain, these tissues are not receiving enough oxygen because of inflammation. Cupping relieves this inflammation allowing nutrients and oxygen to flow. It’s no wonder that even US Olympians Michael Phelps and Natalie Coughlin as well as NFL star DeMarcus Ware are known to use cupping therapy to help mitigate their muscle problems. Then I thought, if these top athletes are gaining a lot of benefits from the therapy, what more for ordinary persons like me?

In addition to relieving pain, cupping therapy is also known for promoting relaxation as well as help manage herpes zoster, acne, cellulite, and inflammatory skin conditions. All of these benefits were attributed to the reduction of inflammation and the overall enhancement of blood flow. This is also helpful in clearing pulmonary secretions which are a-plenty in flu or cold. It has also been used in the management of acute gastritis, stomach aches, water retention, and even diarrhea.

Now, I am no scientist nor a medical expert. All I can say is that cupping therapy did work for me, at least for the management of my low back pain. At the very least, I don’t have to worry about serious side effects as well as expensive medications.