Michael Phelps continued his swim into glory at the Rio 2016 Olympics with some odd round marks all over his upper body, and the world was introduced to the concept of ‘cupping.’
Michael’s therapist was using cupping on the USA swim team athletes to allow the chest and shoulder muscles to have a healthier supply of blood and energy. is therapeutic technique has been used for thousands of years throughout ancient Asia and even Africa, and it has quietly made its way into your acupuncturist’s treatment room as well…way before our swimming legend made the news this summer.
Very simply put, the practitioner uses this technique to create a negative pressure inside the cup so that when applied to a patient’s skin, a suction eﬀect is the result. Some cups used actually have a port that a suction device is attached to in order to create the suction. I commonly use glass cups and create the negative pressure by lighting an alcohol soaked cotton ball with a match. Fire absorbs the oxygen in the cup and once the cotton is pulled out, the cup is quickly applied to the skin with an immediate suction eﬀect.
This suction eﬀect moves blood and Qi and is a diﬀerent way to do what acupuncture needles do.
“I often use cupping and acupuncture in combination. I’m looking for the generalized impact of cupping, along with the deeper constitutional support of the acupuncture needles.”
If you recall from my previous articles, the Qi (or life force, or energy) travels throughout the body. Acupuncture needles have a direct impact on the Qi in the meridians (or channels of energy); while the cupping has a more generalized field of influence which can often accomplish similar results.
When the Qi is not moving well there will be a symptom in the body. The ancient acupuncturists maintained that where there was ‘stuck Qi’ there would be pain. So, acupuncturists will always be concerned with ‘moving the Qi’. The blood is a larger conversation in the acupuncture treatment room. The blood contains the Qi and also is moved by the Qi. They are inseparable. Often times, when the Qi gets sluggish or ‘stuck’ or ‘blocked’ then the blood will also get ‘stagnant’ (or stuck). Stagnant blood pain is usually sharp and shooting in nature.
I often use cupping and acupuncture in combination. I’m looking for the generalized impact of cupping, along with the deeper constitutional support of the acupuncture needles. I also incorporate lifestyle coaching (with an emphasis on nutrition and whole food support).
Recently I had a patient with pain on the sides of her thighs. On palpatio,n the flesh of her thighs were tender and also felt ‘lumpy’ overall. I applied cups to both right and left thighs and left them in place for about 10-15 minutes. I’d periodically move them to another location a few inches away. She experienced a 90% reduction in pain immediately. A way to understand this is that her Qi and blood were ‘congested’ in the area (or channels). Her fascia was what I referred to as ‘sticky’ as well. By applying the cupping, the area opened up and the Qi and blood began to move (or ‘breath’ as I like to put it). The fascia also ‘loosened’ in response to this treatment.
Cupping has dozens of applications, some of which are: common cold/flu, constipation, headaches and back pain. A well-trained acupuncturist will know when and how to use cupping on your behalf. Cupping, like acupuncture, is medical wisdom that has been around for a very long time.
Cupping and Breast Cancer
Cupping has been very useful for my patients recovering from chemotherapy for breast cancer. The chemotherapy/radiation journey extends well beyond the cancer therapy. Women become highly sensitive and reactive to any painful stimuli. It almost seems like the acupuncture is too ‘violent’ in nature at this stage of their cancer journey. I end up doing more acupressure and essential oils as well as cupping and gua sha (a rubbing technique that also moves Qi and Blood). hese interventions do not require needles.
I recently used a variety of these techniques on a woman who had adhesions and severe pain on touch to her upper pectoralis area of her left chest. After doing cupping alongside of her spinal column I was able to apply a more deep pressure and gentle massage with my essential oils to here adhesion area. In that way she began to feel some immediate release and ease of movement of her arm and shoulder.
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