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Cupping is an irritant therapy and belongs to the elimination procedure. Cupping means that blood is sucked in by a suction effect on the skin in order to better bleed through the skin or to suck the blood out through fine cuts in the skin. The word cupping comes from the Middle High German word "Schrepfen".
Depending on the complaints to be treated, this old form of therapy is used bloody, bloodless or as a massage. Cupping is mainly at home in naturopathic practices and in traditional Chinese medicine and is used there for a wide variety of diseases.
Note: The effect of this healing method has so far only been scientifically proven. From the point of view of conventional medicine, it therefore belongs to alternative medicine and is mainly based on experience. If necessary, decide after consultation with your doctor or health care professional whether cupping is suitable for your complaints for sole or accompanying use.
Cupping - a brief overview
Our brief overview gives you the most important facts about cupping.
- Definition: Cupping is an irritant therapy and belongs to the elimination procedure. Cupping means that blood is sucked in by a suction effect on the skin in order to better bleed through the skin (dry cupping) or to suck the blood out through fine cuts in the skin (bloody cupping).
- Effect: Cupping stimulates blood circulation in the affected tissue and has an anti-inflammatory, healing and tissue-relaxing effect. It is also said to have an immunostimulating effect and to improve the microcirculation of blood and lymph.
- Execution: A so-called cupping glass is used, which is applied to the skin while standing in a vacuum, so that the resulting negative pressure sucks in the skin. With bloody cupping, the skin is scratched at the area to be treated beforehand, so that blood escapes when the skin is sucked in.
- General areas of application: Cupping treatment can be used, for example, to relieve tension in the spine, low blood pressure (hypotension), high blood pressure (hypertension), headache, ringing in the ears or tinnitus, period pain, constipation, shoulder-arm syndrome, problems in the area of the stomach, liver and bile come. Depending on the type and cause of the complaints, it is then decided which application method of cupping (dry, bloody or massage) is best suited.
- Areas of application for bloody cupping: Bloody cupping is used in so-called "fullness states"; a pent-up pressure is to be derived here. These include red gels (hardening in the subcutaneous and muscle tissue), high blood pressure, tension in the neck area or chronic back pain.
- Areas of application for bloodless cupping: Cupping is helpful, for example, for osteoarthritis of the knee, carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic back and neck complaints. Pain relief was observed in treated patients.
- Cupping massage: The cupping massage is a further development of the dry or bloodless cupping. It is used primarily for muscle tension in areas with reduced blood flow. This form of massage is said to bring relief, especially for pain in the neck, chest and lumbar region.
- Side effects: Possible side effects are bruising or bruising, but these are usually harmless and disappear after a few days. In addition, bloody cupping can lead to inflammation and scarring due to application errors. Depending on the method, there may also be skin burns due to application errors.
- Contraindications: Cupping treatment should not be used during pregnancy. Bloody cupping should not be done in children. It should not be used on birthmarks, varicose veins, in the area of phlebitis, on injuries, rashes, warts, sunburn, in the case of acute inflammation of the skin area concerned and in the case of coagulation disorders.
- Note: Since cupping treatment as a whole has not yet been sufficiently researched and there are only a few studies on this treatment method, it cannot be regarded as sufficient treatment for severe and prolonged complaints. Therefore, a prior clarification by a general practitioner is necessary.
Cupping is an ancient method of therapy that dates back to 3300 BC. A historical Mesopotamian doctor's seal, on which a cupping bell is depicted, is an indication of this. Cupping is older than bloodletting and leech therapy and was used extensively early in India, Egypt and Greece. In Greece cupping even had its own god named Telesphorus; the cupping bell became the doctor's emblem. In traditional Chinese medicine, cupping has long been known as a healing method and is still used today.
The Greek doctor Hippocrates (460 - 377 BC) also used cupping. In the period from 30 before to about 38 AD, mainly lay lay people in Italy worked with cupping heads to treat suppuration or blood congestion. More and more Bader and Steinschneider are using this method - especially the bloody version - in excess, which has made cupping a bad name.
In the 16th century, the bloody cupping art boomed. The German doctor Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland (1762 - 1836) greatly appreciated this form of therapy and described it as an extremely effective skin cleanser, which in his opinion was far too neglected. He also used it to treat diseases of the ears, eyes, liver, pleura, musculoskeletal system and much more. In the 19th and 20th centuries, cupping was already known all over the world.
The special cupping glasses are placed on the skin under vacuum. The suction effect triggered by this stimulates the blood circulation in the affected tissue.
Cupping is one of the so-called irritant therapies and should not only act on the treated skin area, but also on certain organs and thus on the entire organism via nerve pathways. Cupping is also said to have an immunostimulating effect. In addition, the microcirculation of blood and lymph should be improved and muscle tone reduced.
Experiments by physiologist and acupuncturist Helene Langevin have shown an anti-inflammatory and tissue-relaxing effect, as well as an increased production of chemical messengers that promote healing.
It is cupped bloody, dry or in the form of a cupping massage. In the beginning it was only used on the diseased area. The Greek doctor Galenos von Pergamon (129 - 201 AD) later describes the use of the cupping glasses on parts of the body that are further away from the actual disease. In this way, the internal organs are also reached and treated, such as the stomach, liver or kidneys. This is based on the findings of the neurologist Sir Henry Head (1861-1940), according to which certain areas of the skin (so-called “Head zones”) are connected to certain organs via nerve connections.
There are individual scientific studies that prove the effectiveness of cupping: Researchers observed greater pain relief in cupped patients compared to untreated subjects. Such efficacy has been demonstrated, for example, in osteoarthritis of the knee, carpal tunnel syndrome on the wrist and in chronic back complaints and complaints in the shoulder and neck area.
Cupping glasses of different sizes are used for cupping. In order to create a vacuum, traditional alcohol cupping was (is) swung and lit in the glass. Then the cupping glass must be placed on the skin immediately so that the negative pressure can suck the skin. This method is not used as often these days.
It is easier to use cupping glasses with a rubber ball. These glass or plastic vessels are applied to the area to be treated. The rubber ball is compressed before it is applied to the skin. When the rubber ball is released, the glass soaks itself against the skin.
Some therapists work with an electric vacuum pump, with which a cupping massage is also possible. This also eliminates the risk of burns.
The bloody cupping is the further development of an ancient method in which the skin was scratched and then sucked out with the mouth. Animal horns were later used for this. Cupping glasses were only used after the glass was invented.
Bloody cupping is used in so-called "fullness states". This means that a pent-up pressure should be derived. This manifests itself in a so-called red ("hot") gelose (hardening in the subcutaneous and muscle tissue). This is a tissue swelling that is hot, plump, and painful. It usually occurs as part of an acute illness. If a gelose has existed for a long time, it usually changes its state and becomes a white ("cold") gelose. Bloody cupping increases blood and lymph flow, tension in the smooth muscles should decrease, the metabolism should be improved and the pain should decrease. One study showed good results in people with chronic back pain.
The process of bloody cupping is as follows: the skin is first disinfected, then scratched. The cupping head is then applied. For scoring, the therapists mostly use a so-called "cupping cutter". With this instrument, the skin can be scratched in several places at the same time. The cupping glass is applied to the “opened” area and the blood is collected. In one session, you can skim in several places. The therapist observes the process very closely and immediately ends it as soon as no more blood flows. The amount of blood has nothing to do with the effect. Just a few drops can be enough to achieve the desired success. After cupping, the skin is cleaned again and covered with a plaster. The process can be repeated after a few days.
From the point of view of holistic medicine, the red gelose, in which this method is used, is caused by abundance that has become stagnant, for example in the case of high blood pressure or tension in the neck area. Bloody cupping is not used as often these days because the spots can become inflamed and scars can develop. With this form of cupping, meticulous hygiene is extremely important.
Bloodless or dry cupping
Dry or bloodless cupping is used for white ("cold, empty") lots. These are cold, pale but painful areas where blood flow is reduced. You can also recognize them by the fact that during a massage the tissue hardly changes in color, so it does not get a reddish color.
When cupping is dry or bloodless, the blood circulation is stimulated, the lymph flow is to be increased, the treated area is warmed up, the metabolism is stimulated, toxins are to be removed and pain is reduced.
The skin does not need to be disinfected when cupping is dry or bloodless. The cupping head sucks on the skin by pressing the rubber ball connected to the glass. With the somewhat outdated method, in which the glasses are rinsed with high-proof alcohol, then lit and immediately brought onto the skin, care must be taken so that no burns occur.
How long the cupping glasses stay on the skin depends on the underlying disease. The average duration of treatment is ten to twenty minutes. Blue spots usually result from the suction process. The frequency of cupping depends on the individual situation of the patient. Usually treatment is done once or twice a week.
The cupping massage is a further development of the dry or bloodless cupping. This form of massage often brings relief, especially for pain in the neck or in the thoracic and lumbar region.
First, a circulation-promoting oil is applied to the area to be massaged. A special cupping glass with a rubber ball and a rounded edge is used for the cupping massage. This is available in a wide variety of sizes. The glass sucks in and now gentle movements follow on the skin. If the cupping head comes loose, it is simply fixed again and the massage continued.
It should be noted that the glass is never applied to bones. A cupping massage is not appropriate in the area of the cervical spine, as this area reacts very sensitively. Deletions with the curved glass edge are sufficient here. Plastic glasses are best suited as they do not break if they should come off quickly.
Areas of application
Before cupping, it is first considered which cupping method is best suited for the treatment of the present complaints: bloody, dry / bloodless or massage. The areas of application are diverse. Cupping treatment can be used, for example, to relieve tension in the spine, low blood pressure (hypotension), high blood pressure (hypertension), headache, ringing in the ears or tinnitus, period pain, constipation, shoulder-arm syndrome, problems in the area of the stomach, liver or bile come.
Possible side effects are bruising, but these are usually harmless and disappear after a few days.
The cupping method, which is only rarely used today, in which the glasses are briefly lit before being applied to the skin, can cause burns. However, this only happens in the event of incorrect, careless handling by the practitioner.
As with all forms of treatment, there are some contraindications to cupping. In general, any cupping treatment should be avoided in pregnant women. Bloody cupping is contraindicated in children.
It should not be used on birthmarks, varicose veins, in the area of phlebitis, on injuries, rashes, warts, sunburn, in the case of acute inflammation of the skin area concerned and in the case of coagulation disorders.
Cupping is not intended for self-treatment, but belongs in the hands of appropriately medically trained people, such as a doctor, a naturopath, or a physiotherapist.
Since the method has so far not been scientifically proven by studies and is therefore not fully recognized by conventional medicine, the costs for this are normally not borne by the health insurance companies. Cupping treatment must therefore usually be paid for privately. Non-medical practitioner insurance, however, often bears the cost of hosting a non-medical practitioner session. (sw, dk, kh)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
- Seeker, Benjamin. (2019). Suction Decompression of the Carpal Tunnel. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. 119. 464-468. 10.7556 / jaoa.2019.083. , ResearchGate
- Wang, Yu-Ling & An, Chun-Mei & Song, Shan & Lei, Feng-Ling & Wang, Yin. (2018). Cupping Therapy for Knee Osteoarthritis: A Synthesis of Evidence. Complementary Medicine Research. 25. 10.1159 / 000488707., ResearchGate
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