Acupunctural cupping

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In over 2,500 years since its first development, acupuncture has spawned many different disciplines and techniques that, while still a part of the central acupunctural ethos, are subtly different in their applications. In this article we look at one particular form of acupuncture called cupping.

What is acupuncture cupping?

Cupping is a practice that is based on the use of suction generated by cups to stimulate specific acupoints. In cupping, this suction and pressure is used instead of the needles used in conventional acupuncture.

Suction is used in cupping to the exact same end as needles in traditional acupuncture, namely to stimulate specific parts of the body known as acupuncture points. Each acupuncture point on the body is part of a particular system of understanding based on a belief in the movement of energy throughout the body. This energy is called Qi, and remains a philosophy integral to traditional Chinese medicine. Acupoints are parts of the body through which Qi flows in channels known as meridians. These meridians carry Qi to every part of the body, resulting in harmony and good health. When the flow of Qi is obstructed, disease and illness follow, hence the use of acupuncture to stimulate acupoints and restore the flow of Qi.

Needles are the conventional tool responsible for acupunctural treatments, and as mentioned above, suction is used through cupping as an alternative to achieve the same goals.

How is cupping performed?

Cupping involves glass cups which are placed on top of a particular acupoint, these are then subject to one of two distinct methods designed to generate suction and target an acupoint. The first method involves using a glass cup housing a cotton ball soaked in flammable ethanol. The cotton ball is ignited, allowed to burn, then removed before the cup itself is placed on top of a target acupuncture point. The difference in the temperature of the inverted cup and the surrounding air causes a vacuum to be created within the cup, and in response, blood rushes to the skin underneath the cup.

This technique is referred to as ‘fire cupping’ for obvious reasons, and the alternative method is called suction cupping. This is virtually identical to fire cupping, however rather than flame and a temperature difference being used to generate suction, cups affixed to a suction pump are used. This pump draws all the air out of a cup once it is on top of an acupoint, and in doing so achieves the same suction effect which promotes circulation.

Why use cupping?

Proponents of cupping suggest that the technique can treat a variety of different conditions including anaemia, pain relief, anxiety, rheumatism, skin problems, and fertility diseases. In truth there is little evidence to support the claims made about cupping, however the success of acupuncture in some treatment areas suggests that there may be benefits to using the technique. Many accounts from users suggest that the treatment can vastly help with pain relief and feelings of well-being.

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