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Cupping is an ancient method of causing local congestion. It's origination is unclear, though many of the ancient civilisations (Greeks, Roman, Chinese, Turkish as well as the Ancient Europeans) seemed to have this practice as part of their arsenal for treating various muscle conditions.

A vacuum is created in cups placed on the skin either by means of heat or suction. This draws up the underlying tissues. When the cup is left in place on the skin for a few minutes, blood stasis (purple-ish bruise-like mark) is formed and localized healing takes place.

Cupping therapy has been further developed as a means to open the 'Meridians' of the body. Meridians are the conduits in the body through which energy flows to every part of the body and through every organ and tissue. There are five meridians on the back that, when opened, allow invigorating energy to travel the whole length of the body. It has been found that cupping is probably the best way of opening those meridians.

Cupping regulates the flow of Qi and Blood. It helps to draw out and eliminate external pathogenic factors like wind, cold, damp and heat as found in many disorders in Bi Syndrome - Painful Obstruction of Qi and Blood and is also a suitable treatment for digestion disorders, circulatory and respiratory systems, some skin conditions such as boils and eczema, weakness of the muscles, high blood pressure and common colds.

Effects of Cupping Physiologically:
Effects upon the skin: due to the direct physical stimuli upon the skin and the expansion of blood vessels of the skin, by means of the pull of low pressure. This creates an increase in blood circulation, a rise of skin temperature, the promotion of metabolism within the skin tissue, better functioning of sweat and sebaceous glands. The essential aspect of cupping is not only to withdraw stagnant old blood within the skin but also to remove poisonous substances from the surface of the skin.

Effects upon muscles:
The pull of low pressure from the cups, creates the expansion of blood vessels in the muscles facilitating the flow of fresh blood circulation and has a remarkable effect on muscle stiffness like 'stiff shoulders' as cupping helps to remove congested blood.

Effects upon joints:
Conditions for example 'mild rheumatism' of the joints is a condition commonly treated with cupping therapy as it aids in a better flow of blood within the joint and helps activates the activity of secretion of synovial fluids in the joint capsule.

Effects upon the digestive organs:
The low pressure of the cups when placed on the abdomen helps to stimulate the digestive organs and their peristaltic movement and the secretion of digestive fluids and helps to strengthen the individuals digestion and absorption of nutrients.

Static Cupping (Guan Fa):
There are 3 different styles of static cupping commonly used in practice which are weak (light) cupping, medium cupping and strong cupping.
The essential key to static cupping is to do with the flame; "the bigger the flame, the stronger the suction"!

Weak (Light) Cupping:
This style of cupping is employed when Qi and Blood show signs and symptoms of deficiency (Xu) or stagnation (Shi). The intention of this style of cupping is to remove stagnation and at the same time to tonify (strengthen) weak Qi and Blood, and is therefore termed as a 'tonifying' method.

In applying weak cupping, the patient should not feel any discomfort whatsoever, and can be applied to almost anywhere on the body. There maybe some reddening of the skin where the gentle low pressure vacuum have increased the Qi and Blood circulation to the skin and muscle tissue, however there should not be any bruise like marks.

The key to deciding this particular method of cupping is in the determination of the pulse and tongue examination of the patient. This style of cupping is suitable for debilitated patients, elderly people and young children under the age of 7 years.

Medium Cupping:
This style of cupping is the more frequent method of cupping used by practitioners on patient that have 'stronger energies' than the patient whom have weak cupping applied. It is also suitable for children over the age of 7 years.

In this method the suction (vacuum) is firmer. However, though redness of skin will occur if the cups have been to on the body for too long there maybe slight bruising marks. In order to avoid this, practitioners usually use glass cups so that can observe the treatment and make any adjustments as early as possible.

Medium cupping can be applied to most areas of the body, including the face and abdomen. It is suitable in treating condition of Cold, Damp and Hot Bi Syndromes - Musculo-skeletal conditions, stress related conditions, Qi and Blood tonification.

Strong Cupping:
This method is more of the more 'draining' methods of cupping and is primarily used on individuals who demonstrate relatively strong Wei Qi.

In using this particular method a significant amount of Qi and Blood are moved, which can sometime leave the patient feeling quite tired. The tongue examination and pulse diagnosis plays an important role when applying this method of cupping as the diagnosis should emphasise an Excess or Full (Shi) condition. The intention of strong supping is to move the Qi and Blood and eliminate external/internal pathogenic factors and stagnation from patients with relatively strong Wei (Defensive) Qi.

With this style of cupping for the first time a very dark purple mark is inevitable, which can take up to 15 days to disappear completely. Strong cupping method is very beneficial for treating disorders such as frozen shoulder and 'Hot Bi' conditions like arthritis, rheumatism, etc.

Empty Cupping (Shan Guan Fa):
This method is also sometimes known as flash cupping due to its speed of application. It is actually the same as static cupping but is applied rapidly over an area of the body where the cups remain on the skin for a very short amount of time.

Empty cupping is used to stimulate and move the Qi and Blood on the weak and frail but not enough to drain the individual. So this particular method is considered to be 'tonifying' in effect and is used primarily in conditions where Cold and Heat of the pathogenic factors involved and is used for people that would be considered weak and frail to be able to have static cupping i.e. senior citizens or a person of suffers from chronic illness and children under the age of 14.

Generally empty cupping is applied to the back of the body, this done by oiling the individuals back ready to be cupped. Then applying as many as 12 cups rapidly over the area of the back, then once all the cups have been placed, they are then removed as quickly as they were placed on the back usually beginning with the first cup that was applied. Once the cups have been removed, they are then reapplied in different positions on the persons back.

This procedure can be repeated between 5 and 10 minutes.

Empty cupping is also applied over the umbilicus (belly button) in the treatment for seasonal rhinitis (hayfever) to help strengthen the Yuan Qi.

Sliding Cupping (Tui Guan Fa):
Moving (Sliding) cupping is the second method of cupping that is considered as 'draining. Here the intention of this particular method is to apply strong cupping to a larger area of the body.

The area that this method is used is usually the Tai Yang aspect of the body which incorporates the Bladder, Small Intestines, San Jiao and Du Channels of the whole back area. For this method to be employed the patient has to possess strong energetic features before sliding cupping is applied.

Moving cupping applied by liberally oiling the patients back before placing a single medium strength cupping method to the body. Thereafter the cup is moved up and down the back along the muscle groups (upper, middle and lower fibres of the trapezious, lattissimous dorsi, erector spinae) on either side if the spine, especially when excess heat conditions are present, or some neurological conditions such as pain radiation in sciatica, post-stroke muscle weakness and/or paralysis.

The intention of moving cupping is to 'manipulate the excess energy and bring up the heat to the surface of the skin'. Generally with this form of cupping method, after a few strokes, bruising will appear alongside the line of movement. On a whole, the more 'internal heat' that is present the quicker the bruise will appear which is also a good diagnostic tool with such conditions as Qi stagnation and Blood stasis and internal heat are concerned: deep, dark purple bruises indicate Full (Shi), Excess or an acute condition, and lighter bruises indicate Empty (Xu), Deficient condition which require less vigorous treatment.

The conditions that benefit most from this form of cupping are:

  • Hot Skin conditions (Eczema, Psoriasis, Acne)
  • Hot Bi Syndrome: Arthritis, Rheumatism.
  • Bi Syndrome (Muscle adhesions, Scar Tissue, Low Back Pain, Sciatica)

    An important key to this treatment is that the cup should not be moved over lesions with regards to skin conditions, or directly over the painful points close to any trauma.


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