By Phyllis Kennemer
I now have something in common with a number of celebrities and movies stars. I have experienced one of the latest fads in holistic medicine — cupping therapy. Actually, the practice of cupping has been around for thousands of years, but it has been recently rediscovered in Hollywood. Some of its high-profile advocates include Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ralph Feinnes. They have all been seen with the tell-tale circles visible on their backs.
Cupping therapy is a form of alternative medicine in which round cups (no relation to tea cups) are placed on the skin to create suction and pull the skin up a bit. According to traditional Asian medicine, cupping is a method of creating a vacuum on the patient’s skin which dispels stagnant blood and lymph to improve the Qi (a Chinese term for body energy) flow in the body. It is used to relieve pain in muscles and clear congestion in the chest caused by colds or flu. It can also be applied for other ailments, and sometimes young women wishing to become pregnant try the treatment hoping to increase fertility.
In broadest terms, there are two types of cupping: dry and wet. The procedure involves creating a small area of low air pressure next to the skin. Cups used for the treatment are of various sizes and shapes and are made from a variety of materials. Plastic, glass and rubber are the most common materials used today — replacing the horn, pottery, bronze and bamboo cups used in earlier times.
Fire cupping is a dry method that involves creating heat within the cup. A cotton ball is soaked in alcohol, then clamped with a pair of forceps and lit with a match or a lighter. The flaming ball is placed into the cup and quickly removed before the cup is positioned on the skin. The heat removes oxygen and creates a small amount of suction which raises the skin inside. Other dry cupping treatments use cups with tiny pumps to remove air, or rubber that can be squeezed for the same purpose.
Wet cupping involves briefly placing a heated cup on the skin, lifting the cup and pricking the skin with a needle or making a small incision with a cupping scalpel. The cup is replaced to draw out a small quantity of blood. Some believe that this procedure aids in releasing a greater number of toxins.
Procedures for cupping therapy are part of the training for all acupuncturists and some use the technique frequently, while others bring out the cups only upon request from particular clients. Some massage therapists have also started using cups as part of their treatments.
Summer Gray, a therapist with Massage Bliss in Fort Collins, became interested in cupping when other remedies for the numbness in her arm had failed. She had tried traditional massage and chiropractic treatments before turning to this therapy. Her arm was healed after two 30-minute cupping procedures. The results were so extraordinary that Gray decided to learn the techniques for herself. She now offers cupping therapy as a part of her massage treatments.
Gray has several sets of cups for use with clients. Her fire cups are made of glass. She also has hard plastic cups with a pump mechanism to pull air out. These are sometimes used with magnets. The plastic facial cups are small and offer results similar to those of acupuncture. They are helpful in healing scar tissue. Her silicone cups are moved slowly up and down the skin, with a light touch. This pulls the tissue up and helps relieve chronic conditions.
Adding cupping to a massage was a new experience for me. Gray explained the procedure before we began and reminded me that I would have marks on my back for about two days up to two weeks. The massage began in a familiar way before Gray attached the plastic cups to my back using the pump to release some of the air and pull my skin up a bit. She removed these cups after about ten minutes and moved the silicone cups up and down my back in smooth strokes. Then I turned face up for the Geisha treatment. Gray used a tiny cup with a rubber attachment, similar to a syringe, to pull skin up and release it on my face. It is believed that this procedure was used daily with the Geishas in Japan to keep their skin looking young and wrinkle-free.
Both acupuncture and cupping are accepted methods of medical treatment in Eastern countries, especially in China, where they are used routinely in doctors’ offices and hospitals. They are less commonly used in this country, where they continue to be classified as alternative healing methods.
Will the celebrity advocates of cupping bring about a change in attitudes toward this treatment in Western countries and help move this treatment into accepted medical practice? Perhaps!