Cupping Therapy: An Ancient Chinese Therapeutic Technique With Modern Day Efficacy

The popularity of cupping has recently exploded with the recent images of Olympians, most notably USA swimming star Michael Phelps, covered in several dark colored circles on their bodies. Besides looking like they were attacked by giant octopi, these elite Olympic athletes and their trainers provide anecdotal evidence that it aids in post workout recovery, rehabilitates injured muscles, and most importantly, gives them a competitive advantage by allowing them to be in optimal physical fitness. Let’s go a little deeper than the superficiality of these marks and testimonials and look at the history and context behind this ancient East Asian medical modality.

Cupping has been utilized as a therapeutic medical modality for over 2,000 years. In the context of Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, this technique warms and unblocks the acupuncture channels, promotes greater circulation of blood and Qi (bioelectromagnetism), alleviates painful muscles and joints, and even enhances the immune system and assists in the treatment of asthma, coughing and the acute stages of a cold. In biomedical science the effects of cupping have been shown to reduce muscle tension and release anti-inflammatory compounds, anti-oxidants, and endogenous pain relievers.

Cupping is only one technique under the broader scope of Acupuncture. Acupuncture, which is the insertion of fine, filiform needles into various acupoints in the body, stimulates and regulates the body’s physiology. It can be performed with filiform needles or with magnets, electrical stimulation (TENS units), acupressure and with lasers. Another technique almost synonymous with Acupuncture is Moxibustion, which is the utilization of the herb Artemisia vulgaris (mugwort) to warm and activate the acupuncture channels. The final technique under the umbrella of Acupuncture is Guasha, which is a scraping technique that is very useful in unblocking stagnation of Qi and blood within the muscles, relieving pain and releasing powerful anti-inflammatory chemicals, such as Interleukin-6.

To fully understand and appreciate the total therapeutic capacity of cupping therapy one needs to study the science and art of Acupuncture & Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Acupuncture utilizes channel theory to understand the interconnectedness of the entire body and how energy, neurotransmitters and hormones are regulated to maintain homeostasis. Biomedical science is only just beginning to understand the full complexity of this ancient medical practice. Some of the proposed mechanisms of action behind Acupuncture that are gaining a lot of clout are the research investigations in connective tissue by Dr. Helen Langevine, the research exploring the actions and properties of bioenergetics and bioelectromagnetism in humans by Dr. Richard Hammerschlag, and the Growth Control Theory proposed by Dr. Charles Shang.

If you would like to learn more or become a student of this amazing holistic medical system, consider attending Five Branches University, which has been a leader in the field of Acupuncture and TCM education since 1984. With campus locations in the seaside town of Santa Cruz, California and in San Jose, the capital of Silicon Valley, Five Branches University provides unparalleled academic and clinical education.