The Health Benefits of Cupping

By Antonia Balfour, L.Ac.

A couple of years ago Gwyneth Paltrow made headlines when wearing a backless dress after getting cupping during an acupuncture treatment.

Since that time I¡¯ve been approached by many people who are new to holistic medicine asking me not only about acupuncture, but also about cupping.

What is Cupping?

Cupping is most commonly associated with Chinese medicine, but it has actually been used in cultures across the world for many years. It has roots from Greece to Russia, Vietnam to Iran. Islamic traditional medicine uses a form of cupping as does Eastern European Jewish folk medicine. There are many styles and techniques of cupping, all of which use suction in cups to draw energy, blood, and fluids to the surface to promote circulation. In Chinese medicine, the cups can stay in one place over specific acupuncture points or a sliding technique may be used with massage oil to move the cups around the back. In ¡°flash¡± cupping, a cup will be repeatedly applied to one area for less than a second. The suction comes from a vacuum created by heating the air in the cup and placing the cup flush against the skin of the back. The intensity of suction used will vary, but is always adjusted for the comfort level of each patient. Most people find the suction to be moderate and quite comfortable feeling.

What is Cupping used for?

Cupping is most commonly used to treat coughs, asthma, and symptoms of the common cold. It can also be used for muscle aches and pain, especially back pain. Sliding cupping, in particular, leaves the muscles of the back relaxed and opens up movement and motility. Most people find cupping to be a wonderfully relaxing, comfortable, and effective treatment. Like massage, cupping can also be used to relieve stress, tension, and lower blood pressure.

Be Careful¡­if you¡¯re planning to wear a dress or shirt which exposes your back after a cupping treatment. Cupping sometimes leaves circular marks on your back that can last from several days to a week after treatment. These circles appear red or purple, kind of like an ¡°acupuncture hickey¡±. Patients are often surprised to find them because the treatment itself is so painless and relaxing, they have no idea that they¡¯re there. So, be warned! If you¡¯re basking on the beach after a cupping treatment, you may just stir up some attention from those curious about this ancient healing technique.

Antonia Balfour is an acupuncturist and herbalist practicing in Pacific Palisades, California. She is the co-owner and Clinical Director of Oasis Palisades, a Health & Wellness Center located in Pacific Palisades (on the Westside of Los Angeles, between Santa Monica and Malibu). She is a California-licensed, NCAAOM-certified acupuncturist. Antonia served as the 2008/2009 president of the Pacific Palisades Chamber of Commerce.

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