Science of Cupping Therapy
Cupping therapy (CT) is an ancient healing modality that has been used across cultures including Egypt, Asia, Africa and Europe. It is a unique technique of burning out the oxygen from a glass cup and creating a negative pressure massage by suctioning on the surface of the body. The sensation is unlike anything you’ve ever tried and it is difficult to describe. But the benefits of cupping therapy are significant and immediate.
There are a number of clinical studies that show the positive effects of cupping therapy that shows it is a safe therapy when provided by a trained medical professional. That being said, more high quality studies are needed. One difficulty in researching the benefits of CT is that the suction is unique and difficult to create a control group that imitates (placebo) the suction. This creates challenges to evaluating the therapy within clinical models. However, initial studies are positive but more thorough and extensive studies need to be completed.
In my clinical experience, I have seen the many benefits of cupping therapy. It is one of my favorite modalities to offer clients because the impact is immediate. Clients often experience much relief, tightness released and a deep sense of relaxation. Cupping therapy should feel really good. It should feel so good that you are looking forward to your next treatment. Yes, it’s that good :-)
Now let’s talk about cupping therapy benefits. Here are a few of the main ones, backed by science.
Several studies are looking at the mechanisms of how cupping reduces the perception of pain. One theory is that the negative pressure from the suction of the cuppings overrides the pain receptors. Much like when you stub your finger or toe and immediately rub or squeeze the finger to reduce the feeling of pain. We do this because our nervous systems can’t process both pressure and pain, to the same degree, at the same time. Cupping inundates your body with pressure and overrides your pain receptors, leading to less perception of pain.
“…it is believed that cupping stimulates pain receptors which lead to increase the frequency of impulses, therefore, ultimately leading to closure of the pain gates and hence pain reduction…”
Another theory is that CT increases skin surface temperature due to vasodilatation and increases capillary endothelial cell repair. These changes to the biomechanical properties of the skin may increase immediate pain thresholds in patients and reduce inflammation explained by the “Pain-Gate Theory”
Yet another possible action is that CT increases the endogenous opioid production in the brain, which leads to pain reduction.
In clinic, I use cupping therapy all the time for stressed out clients. The sustained negative pressure of the cups initiates the parasympathetic nervous system. This allows the body to slow its heart rate, take deeper breaths and fully relax. CT also reduces systemic blood pressure, which can increase the relaxing effect.
The very nature of the pressing, squeezing and stretching of the soft tissue activates and improves the flow of toxins and wastes from the muscles.
CT causes vasodilatation and stimulates blood circulation to the cupped area. The improved blood flow will increase metabolism and accelerate the elimination of waste and toxins from the body. Like a deep tissue massage, be sure to drink lots of water post treatment to replenish lost fluids from cupping.
Activation of Immune System – strengthening the immune system
Cupping irrigates the immune system by making an artificial local inflammation. The light pink color on the surface of the skin is a local histamine reaction, indicating an activation of immune system. Studies show that there are increases to the level of immune products like interferon, in the local blood.
The fascia is a connective tissue surrounding all soft tissue and organs, like a net. When it becomes thick, less flexible or dehydrated, it can cause pain. Stress, trauma, poor posture, repetitive movements and dehydration can all cause fascia dysfunction. CT gently stretches and pulls on the fascia to improve flexibility, movement and blood flow. Often clients feel like cupping creates more space and less tightness in the area.
Have questions? I would love to hear from you!
Kevin Joubert Acupuncture
707-2 Carlton Street