Now popular among Hollywood celebrities and professional athletes, cupping is an ancient Chinese healing practice dating at least as far back as 1550 BC. While some researchers suggest that cupping — also known as myofascial decompression — may just be a placebo effect, this hasn’t deterred those suffering from chronic pain from seeking its healing powers.
The practice of cupping is based on the belief that certain health problems can be caused by stagnant blood or poor energy flow through the body. To prevent or fix those health issues, cupping practitioners apply cups typically made of glass or silicone to your skin to create a pressure that sucks your skin and fascia (an intercellular signaler) inward, drawing blood to the affected area.
This technique increases overall blood flow and subsequently works to relieve muscle tension, improve circulation, and reduce inflammation.
During treatment, a cup is heated or suctioned onto the skin. The cup is often heated with fire using alcohol, herbs, or paper that are placed directly into the cup. (Some modern cupping practitioners have shifted to using rubber pumps to create suction versus traditional heating methods.)
The fire source is then removed and the heated cup is placed with the open side directly on the skin.
When the hot cup is placed on the skin, the air inside the cup cools and creates a vacuum that draws the skin, fascia, and muscle upward into the cup.
Cupping practitioners could have slightly modified styles based on their suction-related, area-related, or therapy-related technique, so there are many different types of cupping.
The two most common types are dry cupping and wet cupping. A third type is called cupping with movement, which is discussed a bit later.
With dry cupping, the heated cup is set in place for a set time — usually between five and ten minutes. Both dry cupping and wet cupping are considered static forms of cupping since the patient lies still while the cups are applied and left on.
Wet cupping follows the same procedure as dry cupping, except that when the practitioner removes the cup, he or she also makes small cuts in the skin to draw blood. The practitioner may then cover the previously cupped areas with ointment and bandages to help prevent infection.
A third type of cupping known as Tissue Distraction Release with Movement (TDR-WM), or cupping with movement, involves the patient actively moving the tissue while cups are simultaneously slid over the target area.
During cupping with movement, the pressure inside the cup lifts and separates the tissue underneath the cup. The movement of the tissues while the cup is applied may further assist the release of the interfaces between soft tissues.
This type of cupping is especially utilized when treating areas such as skin, fascia, neural tissues, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Note that no studies have yet been performed on TDR-WM.
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