Cupping therapy is an ancient medicinal practice and was prevalent in several parts of the world, across cultures and civilizations, before its popularity declined. It is believed to provide several therapeutic benefits – pain relief, increased blood circulation, activation of the immune system and the detoxification of blood along with anti-inflammatory benefits.
Of late, cupping therapy has been gaining popularity, primarily used for pain management. The exact science or mechanism behind how cupping therapy helps reduce pain is still poorly understood. However, several researches and practitioners claim that cupping therapy can be used to reduce different types of pain.
What is cupping therapy?
Cupping therapy is an alternative treatment which is found to be effective against several musculoskeletal pains.
“It is a traditional medicine which uses suction created in the cups placed on the skin, to reduce the problem at the specific site,” says Azmathulla Khan, physiotherapist and co-founder of Physiomatix, Bengaluru.
The cups used in the therapy are made up of bamboo, ceramic, silicone, and glass. “There are two major types of cupping therapy – dry and wet,” says physiotherapist Pooja Pandey Tripathi, founder of Arogya Physiotherapy, Bengaluru.
“In dry cupping, the cups are placed on the specific part of the body for a few minutes and based on whether its static cupping or dynamic cupping the cups are held stationary or moved accordingly,” elaborates Tripathi. “In wet cupping, before placing the cups, tiny lacerations (cuts) are made and then the cups are placed. When suction is created, small amounts of blood come out.”
While both dry cupping and wet cupping help in treating pain, wet cupping is also practiced for detoxifying the blood, say experts.
Mechanism of action
Since the exact mechanism of how cupping therapy reduces pain is still not well understood, the following changes that occur on the skin during suction are believed to have an influence on pain perception.
“When a suction is created on the skin, it causes three major changes in that specific region,” says Khan. “The negative pressure separates the skin and fascia [layer beneath the skin]. It then causes the blood vessels to dilate bringing about fluid exchange. This increases blood circulation as well.”
Tripathi adds, “The increased blood circulation in the skin and muscle releases the muscle adhesions and reduces the pain. Cupping can also stimulate the pain receptors in the peripheral nervous system to reduce pain perception.”
Benefits of cupping therapy
Cupping therapy is known to be effective against musculoskeletal pain like lower-back pain, neck pain and fibromyalgia. It works in managing other painful conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, cervical spondylosis and arthritis as well.
“Dry cupping along with physiotherapy modalities and techniques is used to relieve pain in people involved in sports,” says Khan. “It can also be used to treat chronic pain. I’ve also treated people with dysmenorrhea and menstrual cramps, who have shown remarkable results,” he says.
Headaches can also be treated. “It is used to treat muscle adhesions in people who do extreme workouts, or people with hamstrings strain or calf muscle strains. Small cups, can be placed on the forehead to treat headaches and migraines” adds Tripathi
Advantages and disadvantages of cupping therapy
Cupping therapy does reduce many types of pain. However, it has several disadvantages as well.
“After the therapy, one will see immediate results like feeling relaxed, lighter and less pain,” says Khan. “The side effects of cupping therapy are minimal, which mostly includes the marks/scars that the therapy process leaves behind.”
Tripathi adds, “While pain killers target subsiding the pain, cupping therapy is used to target the root cause of the pain.”
Cupping therapy cannot be used for very old people, since they have a very thin layer of skin and less muscles. People with sensitive skin and skin allergies should also avoid cupping therapy. Leaving the cups on the body for more than the required time can create blisters and other complications.
- Cupping therapy is an ancient medical practice that is regaining popularity because of its benefits that include pain reducing effects, anti-inflammatory properties, increased blood circulation, immune system activation, and detoxification of blood.
- Cupping uses the principle of suction, which when applied increases blood circulation in that area to relax any muscle adhesion and stimulate pain receptors in the peripheral nervous system to reduce pain perception.
- It is used to treat lower back pain, neck pain, fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, cervical spondylosis and arthritis among many others.