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What is Cupping? A Brief Introduction

by DPT黃冠維

Jack and Sam had just finished playing basketball and were on their way back to the classroom when Sam said, "You played really well today, Jack." Jack pulled off his shirt and showed Sam the black cupping circles all over his back, saying, "These are like my radioactive spider bites. They're where all my powers come from." Sam rolled his eyes and said, "Dude, I know what cupping looks like." Today, we're going to be talking about cupping, including why it’s no longer just a form of traditional medicine, and why more and more athletes are trying it.

Principles of Cupping

Cupping is a technique in which the pressure within a cup is lowered, allowing the cup to seal itself onto meridians, acupoints, or locations of discomfort on the body, causing the area to fill with blood, to bruise, or to blister.Cups come in all sizes, with small cups the size of shot glasses and large cups bigger than your fist. Through the use of burning or suction methods, the lowered pressure within the cup can cause it to adsorb to the surface of the skin. This causes skin and flesh to be sucked into the cup, and the resultant force causes the capillaries in that area to fill with blood or burst. These are the dark circles you see on the skin after cupping.

Uses of Cupping

1. Improve circulation and boost metabolism:  The suction of the cup on your skin causes blood pooling, bruising, and blood vessel expansion, which lead to improved circulation. Cupping may also cause sweating, which when combined with improved circulation can boost your metabolism. 

2. Strengthen immunity: Hemolysis caused by burst capillaries strengthens the immune system's phagocytic capabilities.

3. Soothe local discomfort: For example, if inflammation or compression in your upper back is causing oxygen deficiency, adhesion, or spasms, you can use cupping to improve local circulation and soothe discomfort. 

4. Relieve pain: Negative pressure inside the cups pulls on the skin, superficial muscles, and fascia. When combined with improved circulation, this can relieve some soft tissue pain and spasms.

All in all, cupping is a safe and effective treatment method that can loosen tight muscles and fascia and improve local circulation through the use of physical relaxation methods. This is helpful for soothing tight or sore muscles and increasing range of motion of muscles and joints. Cupping is suitable for treating muscle tightness caused by fatigue and high-intensity workouts, which is why many NBA players and other athletes like cupping. 

Cupping Recommendations

It is recommended that each cup be placed on the skin for 5-10 minutes; longer times may cause bruises, blisters, ulceration, or tissue death.

It is also not recommended to use cupping too frequently, but there is currently no general consensus on what constitutes "too frequently." Most doctors make a decision based on each patient's physical condition, so ask your traditional Chinese medicine physician, therapist, or massage therapist. Cups should be placed on well-muscled areas with no hair, such as the shoulders, waist, back, or stomach. You should be in a comfortable position during cupping, and commonly used positions include sitting, lying on the back, lying on the side, or lying face down. Cupping should be performed gently and should avoid areas where dense blood vessels and lymph nodes are located, such as the heart, underarms, and groin. 

Contraindications for Cupping

Cupping cannot be performed if you have any of the following conditions:

1. Heart disease 

2. Hemophilia 

3. Anasarca symptoms 

4. Full-body skin disease or local damage, such as skin allergies, ulcers, or ruptures

5. Extreme weakness, emaciation, or lack of skin elasticity

6. Persistent high fever, convulsions, or spasms

Skin Color After Cupping

From the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine, different skin colors after cupping represent various states of health or possible illnesses lurking. 

1. Purple-black: Insufficient blood supply or a buildup of cold-evil.

2. Purple with black spots: Qi and blood stagnation. 

3. Purple spots with lumps of different depths: Rheumatism

4. Bright red and partially warm: yang syndrome, heat, excess syndrome, exuberant heat toxin, yin-vacuity, effulgent fire. 

5. Red and dark:blood lipid viscosity, hyperlipidemia, insufficient blood supply. 

6. With pale spotted bruises or blood blisters:vacuity cold, dampness evil/damp-pathogen. 

7. Slight itching:Wind-pathogen/wind evil, dampness.

8. Blistering, swelling, with moisturous cup: Cold symptoms, dampness accumulation.

9. With water drops in the cup:Severe cold-damp

10. Red-purple, dark red:Yin symptoms, cold symptoms, blood stasis

Retrieved from: 好痛痛 - 復健科、骨科、物理治療醫療資訊

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