Everything You Need To Know About Cupping

Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston and Victoria Beckham have been at it for years, but cupping appears to have undergone something of a renaissance in recent weeks, with Olympic athletes from Andy Murray to Michael Phelps sporting those tell-tale circular marks. But what exactly is it? Does it hurt? And are there any benefits in it for non-Olympians?

What is it?

Cupping is an ancient technique derived from traditional Chinese and Egyptian medicine. Heated cups made from rubber, glass or – occasionally – bamboo are used to create a vacuum seal against the skin, sucking the underlying tissue into the cup and bringing blood to the surface of the skin. The cups may be left in place for anything up to twenty minutes. Stationary or sliding cups may be used. Cupping is often practised alongside acupuncture, and cups may be placed over acupuncture needles.

How does it work?

Practitioners believe that cupping can remove toxins from the body and speed up the recovery of muscle and soft tissue following injury or strain, by encouraging the body’s natural inflammatory response. Cupping may be combined with traditional acupuncture, with cups placed over sterile needles inserted into pre-defined points to encourage the free flow of ‘qi’ – the body’s vital energy. Traditional acupuncturists believe that illness and pain result from qi blockages.

Does it hurt?

No, but you may or may not enjoy the ‘unique’ sensations involved! Practitioners insist that the purple-hued circular marks left behind after treatment are not bruises, but simply the result of an increase in surface blood flow. They are not usually painful, but can take up to two weeks to fade.

What is it used for?

Cupping is most frequently used as an alternative treatment for muscular and joint pain, and to promote recovery from injury and strain. Olympic gymnast Alex Naddour recently called it his “secret”, saying, “It’s been better than any money I’ve spent on anything else. It has saved me from a lot of pain.” Practitioners and devotees claim that cupping can also assist in the treatment of heart, lung and kidney problems, cellulite, eczema, acne, pneumonia, bronchitis, infertility, the common cold and even cancer.

Does it work?

The jury’s still out. Scientific evidence is sparse and inconsistent and, whilst many would testify to its effectiveness, others argue that any apparent benefits could be explained by the placebo effect. The Cochrane Collaboration suggests that acupuncture may be an effective treatment for chronic lower back pain, migraines and tension headaches, neck pain, IBS and osteoarthritis but, speaking to The Independent on cupping this week, David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology
at University College London, said, “There’s no science behind it
whatsoever. It’s nonsense.”

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