What is it?

Cupping is one of the lesser known Traditional Chinese Medicine adjunctive techniques that can be used in addition to acupuncture. This technique uses small glass cups to create suction and are placed on the skin. Suction is created by lighting an alcohol swab on fire, placing it inside the cup, then quickly removing and extinguishing the flame before placing the cup on the skin. The fire burns up the oxygen inside the cup, creating a vacuum and thus the suction. The fire is never lit near the skin to minimize the risk of burns. This suction gently pulls the skin and superficial layer of fascia up into the cup, helping to release the tension from the tissue to alleviate pain and tightness. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, when the qi and blood stop moving, pain will result. Therefore, the goal of cupping is to help get the qi and blood to move properly again to alleviate pain.

Stationary cupping is when the cups are left in place for several minutes, under supervision of the practitioner. This method is very effective for alleviating localized problems that are in one particular spot, such as a “knot” in the mid-back.

Slide cupping is when the cups are placed after the acupuncturist has applied a lotion to the skin. The practitioner can then move or “slide” the cups back and forth, creating a gentle moving suction to alleviate more generalized problems that cover greater areas. This method is often used to help alleviate pain, tightness, and spasm of the muscles of the back from neck to pelvis.

Bleed-cupping is when a lancet is used to superficially puncture the skin of an area of complaint before placing a cup over the top, which then gently pulls the stagnant blood out to provide significant pain relief. When the qi and blood stop moving properly, the blood becomes stagnant or congested, blocking the flow like a beaver dam blocks a stream. Removing this stagnant blood, or dam, allows the flow to move freely again, eliminating the pain. This method is generally used for sharp or stabbing pain in an area where congested blood vessels can be seen through the skin.

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