One Cup or Two?
Cupping is a technique that has been around for millenia, in cultures worldwide, dating back at least 5000 years. There are written records of its use in Egypt, China, Greece, and even in the Islamic culture. It is a technique that uses cups placed over the body with a little negative pressure. The cups can even be dragged to produce an “upside down massage” that lifts rather than compresses. It can treat deep myofascial problems as well as pain and other inflammatory disorders. It had not been popular in the U.S. due to the marks that it leaves on the body…until now.
Michael Phelps, the world’s most decorated swimmer of all time, popularized cupping in the recent Rio Summer Olympics as he bared his chest revealing the blood-red dots over his shoulders and arms. Well, that was it. Cupping immediately became sensationalized. Overnight, news agencies–local, national, and international—featured interviews and demonstrations on cupping and the marks it branded on its patients. These marks were what once made cupping “taboo”, but now they have become the trendiest therapeutic “body art”. These marks, often viewed as “bruises”, were associated with perceived pain and injury. But they are actually NOT bruises resulting from damaged blood vessels and extravasation of blood into the soft tissues. Rather, they are signs of stagnation of blood, qi (energy), fluids, and toxins embedded in the soft tissues that are drawn out by the negative pressure of the suction. The cups typically stay on the body for 5 to 15 minutes. The patient typically feels a light pressure that is relaxing and invigorating, and literally, uplifting. When the cups are removed, there can be round marks left behind that vary in color from clear light yellow lymph, to red or deep purplish blood. These marks can be either flat or even raised blisters. It is the characteristics of these marks that are most fascinating as they reflect the underlying condition of the patient, and can be used in diagnosis for further treatments utilizing acupuncture and even herbs.
I practiced cupping years ago, but had put away my glass cups as I had very few takers due to the marks left on the skin. Now, cupping is all for the taking! The “marks” are “in”! More people are wanting to try cupping and be “branded”, just like Michael Phelps. I actually hear sighs of disappointment when the marks are not as vivid or intense as what patients had hoped for, compared to what they saw on TV. Go figure! Well, far be it for me to disappoint a patient. I am happy to oblige, to leave my mark. My only question is, “one cup or two”?
By Judy Lui, MD, DOM