By: Rhea Tomlinson (BMR-PT, BA)
Certified in Acupuncture & Dry Needling
RYT 200 hour
Cupping is becoming more and more popular amongst the general public who are seeking holistic methods to care for their myofascial pain and restrictions. What exactly is cupping? What are the benefits and what are the current literature findings to support cupping? Read this blog to learn more about cupping and how it can benefit you!
What is cupping?
Cupping is a form of treatment that has been around for thousands of years. This treatment method has been recently popularized in the western world and is now used commonly amongst various disciplines in the health & wellness world. Cupping has been further popularized by celebrity use such as Michael Phelps who was questioned for the red cup marks all over his back during the 2016 summer Olympics.
Cupping claims to increase local blood and lymphatic flow to aid in myofascial tension. The cups can be left in specific locations or they can be mobilized along the tissues. There are various forms of cups available, from glass and flame which removes the oxygen and creates suction when applied to the skin, to silicone cups, to air pump suction or even machine operated. According to Lowe (2017); [a]nciently, the concept of removing “evil spirits” was a common theme. In the early 20th century, it was proposed that cupping stimulated the production of antitoxins within the tissue. Traditional Eastern medicine describes the benefits of cupping via the movement of “Qi” (pronounced “chee”) energy between 12 basic meridians throughout the body.
When the cup is applied, centrally localized negative pressure produces compression of the skin at the rim of the cup and distraction of the skin and underlying tissue within the interior of the cup. The depth of distraction of the skin, underlying fat and muscle is dependent on the amount of negative pressure employed and the diameter of the cup that is used.
Contra-indications and Precautions to treatment
Cupping Therapy has no major side effects aside from minimal discomfort or “pressure” depending on the method of application. Expect to feel warmer in the area as a result of increase blood flow, sweating may occur. If you feel pain, light-headed or unwell, please advise your treating therapist immediately. You will be warned by your physiotherapist that the cups may leave pain free red marks on the skin, the marks are typically more dark the longer they are left in one place.
Your therapist may not use cupping on you if you are; pregnant, have cancer, deep vein thrombosis. Cups should never be placed over an area of fracture or muscle spasms, ulcers, or arteries (Ullah, et al., 2007). If the treatment is uncomfortable, we advise the patient to let us know so that we can alter or remove the cups.
What does the current research show us on the effectiveness of cupping therapies?
- Lauche, Cramer, Langhorst, Dobos (2013) concluded over a 2 year follow up period the effects of cupping were not long-term but short term there were improvements in physical function and quality of life.
- Lowe (2013) suggested that the localized result of the ecchymosis from cupping therapy would have an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-nociceptive (decreasing pain) effect in the local tissue, resulting in an eventual decrease in any local inflammation, and an increase in cell regeneration as well as a decrease in local pain. There is evidence that the effects of producing anti-inflammation are both local and systemic.
- Cao et, al (2014) performed a meta-analysis of thirteen databases that searched for controlled trials performed on the effectiveness and safety of cupping for different types of pain. This review suggests a potential positive short-term effect of cupping therapy on reducing pain intensity compared with no treatment, heat therapy, usual care, or conventional drugs.
- Li, et al. (2017) proposed only weak evidence was found to support cupping for individuals with knee osteoarthritis.
- Cao et al., (2015) searched through six electronic databases and suggested that cupping therapy (alone or combined with other interventions) was better than medications (or other interventions alone).
- Ullah (2007) performed a randomized control trial on 26 participants with anterior knee pain. According to Ullah (2007) [t]he efficacy of the treatment of Cupping for anterior knee pain, range of movement and well-being has been researched and results reveal statistically significant differences in support of Cupping Therapy.
- Meta-analysis by Cao, et al. (2010) included all clinical studies on cupping therapy for all kinds of diseases. 550 clinical studies were identified published between 1959 and 2008, including 73 randomized controlled trials (RCTs), 22 clinical controlled trials, 373 case series, and 82 case reports. This review suggests that there is insufficient high-quality evidence to support the use of cupping therapy on relevant diseases. Although quite a number of clinical studies reported that cupping therapy may have effect on pain conditions, herpes zoster, symptoms of cough and asthma, acne, common cold, or other common diseases.
All authors concluded that more evidence through randomized controlled trials of high quality and large sample sizes are needed to further support the use of cupping therapy and the extent of its effectiveness. There is current supportive evidence for the use of cupping for myofascial pain control. Positive effects of cupping have been suggested to include; pain control, cell regeneration and anti-inflammatory benefits.
If you have any questions about cupping or want to give it a try, please reach out to our amazing Zen team on our contacts page!
Cao, H. Li, X. Yan, X. Wang, N.S. Bensoussan, A. Liu, J. (2014). Cupping therapy for acute and chronic pain management: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medical Sciences, 1(1), p.49-61.
Cao, H., Han, M., Li, X., Dong, S., Shang, Y., Wang, Q., Xu, S., Liu, J. (2010). Clinical research evidence of cupping therapy in China: a systematic literature review. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine (10), 70. Retreived March 1, 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3000376/.
Cao, H., Han, M. Zhu, X. Liu, J. (2015). An overview of systematic reviews of clinical evidence for cupping therapy. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medical Sciences, 2 (1), p.3-10.
Lauche, R. Cramer, H. Langhorst,. J. Dobos G. (2013). Cupping for Chronic Nonspecific Neck Pain: A 2-Year Follow-Up. Complimentary Medicine Research, 20(5), p.328-33.
Li, J.Q., Guo, W. Huang, Q.S., Lee, E.Y.,Wang, Y., Yao, A, D. (2017). Cupping therapy for treating knee osteoarthritis: The evidence from systematic review and meta-analysis. Complimentary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 28, p.152-160.
Lowe, D. (2017). Cupping therapy: An analysis of the effects of suction on skin and the possible influence onhuman health. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice,(29), p1-7.
Ullah, K., Younis, A., Wali, M. (2007). An investigation into the effect of Cupping Therapy as a treatment for Anterior Knee Pain and its potential role in Health Promotion. The Internet Journal of Alternative Medicine. 4(1), retrieved Feb 25, 2019 from http://ispub.com/IJAM/4/1/4969.