The Science behind Cupping Therapy

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Cupping is an ancient practice that spans both East and West. In the ancient shamanic traditions of many of the world\’s indigenous peoples there were healers who specialised in the sucking out of illness and infirmity from the body.

In the East, the Chinese have been practising the art of cupping for at least three thousand years. Along with Tui Na massage, acupuncture and moxibustion, cupping forms part of the traditional bodywork or physiotherapy system of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) Cupping is applied to the acupuncture points to relieve the stagnation of Qi and blood, both locally and in the organs activated by the point.

In the West, cupping therapy had its birth in Egypt. The Ebers Papyrus, written around 1550 B.C., states that healing by wet cupping removes foreign matter from the body. In cupping, the ancient Egyptians and Sumerians saw it as a remedy for just about every disorder.

The ancient Egyptians passed the art of cupping on to the ancient Greeks. Both Hippocrates and Galen were staunch advocates and users of cupping therapy. Herodotus, a famous Greek historian and physician, wrote, in 413 B.C.:

\” ..cupping possesses the power of evacuating offending matter from the head; of diminishing pain of the same part; of lessening inflammation; of restoring the appetite; of strengthening a weak stomach; of removing vertigo and a tendency to faint; of drawing deep-seated offending matter towards the surface; of drying up fluxions; checking haemorrhages; promoting menstrual evacuations; arresting the tendency to putrefaction in fevers; accelerating and moderating the crisis of diseases.. these, and many analogous maladies, are relieved by the judicious application of the Cucurbits (cups)..\”

From the ancient Greeks and Romans, through the Alexandrians and Byzantines, cupping therapy was passed on to the Muslim Arabs and Persians. The Prophet Mohammed even sanctioned the use of cupping. Cupping is now an important and popular therapeutic modality of Unani Medicine.

In the West, cupping remained an important part of medicine and therapy, both conventional, alternative, and folk-based, until the early 20th century. The surgeon Charles Kennedy wrote, in 1826:

\”The art of cupping has been so well-known, and the benefits arising from it so long experienced, that it is quite unnecessary to bring forward testimonials in favour of what has received not only the approbation of modern times, but also the sanction of remotest antiquity.\”

After falling out of favour with medicine in the modern era, cupping therapy is enjoying a resurgence in popularity, promoted by acupuncturists and other holistic healthcare practitioners. New and exciting variations on this ancient technique, like cupping massage, are also being developed.

One secret of cupping\’s perennial popularity is its great ability to promote a state of deep pleasure and profound relaxation.


How Cupping Works:

Traditionally, naturopaths have long recognized the association between pain and conditions of congestion, stagnation and blockage. An old Chinese medical maxim states:

\’\’Where there\’s stagnation, there will be pain. Remove the stagnation, and you remove the pain.\’\’

Not only pain, but the vast majority of all illness and disease comes from stagnation, congestion and blockage of vital energy (Qi) vital fluids, blood, phlegm and lymph. The suction applied by cupping sucks out and breaks up that congestion, stagnation, or blockage, restoring a free flow to the vital energies and humors of the organism.

Actually, pain is the essence of disease. Suffering, or dis-ease, is experienced when things aren\’t flowing right, when there\’s some difficulty or obstruction to the natural flow and functioning of the body. This is what the Greek physician Galen meant when he spoke of disease as being the state contrary to nature.

In addition to dispersing and breaking up stagnation and congestion in the flow of the life force, blood and other humors, cupping also disperses pathogenic heat, toxins and inflammation by bringing them to the surface for release. Pathogenic heat and toxins can fester and eat away at the organism when they\’re submerged and under pressure, but they find release at the surface. Cupping can even be instrumental in mitigating or relieving fevers in the acute crisis stage, and in mitigating and reducing the putrefaction of blood and other humors, a common cause of fevers.

By drawing congested energy, blood, or other humors to the surface, cupping is a form of derivation therapy. Derivation means the drawing away or diversion of vital energies or substances away from the site of blockage and obstruction in order to relieve congestion and restore health and patency to the organism.

Toxins, black bile, morbid humors and other congested offending matter can do more harm when they\’re deep within the organism, obstructing the functioning of the vital organs at the body\’s core. The organism, whenever it can, will try to peripheralize such morbid matter by sending it to the service in the form of various cysts, boils or eruptions, even though they may be unsightly. Cupping is a way of activating this process and relieving pathogenic congestion to the internal organs, thus averting or preventing more serious disorders.

By improving the circulation of blood, lymph and other vital fluids and breaking up and dispersing blockages and congestions of offending waste matter, toxins, cupping improves the eliminative functions and the evacuation of wastes from the organism. In Greek Medicine, the proper and timely evacuation of wastes from the body forms an important aspect of hygiene. Whether it be constipation, urinary retention, or even suppressed menses, the undue retention of anything that should be expelled is a major cause of morbidity and disease.


The Benefits of Cupping:

The benefits of cupping are many. On a general, systemic level, cupping improves the circulation of blood and lymph. It also regulates and improves the functioning of the autonomic nervous system.

Locally, the most obvious benefit of cupping are a relief of pain and a relaxation and increased suppleness of stiff tendons and muscles. Cupping increases the cleansing flow of lymph, while removing congested blood from the muscles. If cupping is applied to the joints, the blood flow to the joint is increased and there\’s an increased secretion of synovial fluid into the joint cavity.

Cupping\’s effect on the digestive organs is to increase their digestive secretions and enhance their peristaltic movement. Cupping can awaken the appetite, strengthen the stomach and digestion, improve the bile flow and metabolism, relieve constipation and promote regularity of the bowels.

Cupping has a dramatic detoxifying effect on the skin and circulatory system. By increasing the flow of blood and plasma through the veins and arteries, cupping enhances the cleansing and removal of toxins. This detoxification may not be observable after just one treatment, but after about three to five treatments, there will be a noticeable improvement in the colour of one\’s complexion.


Fire Twinkling Method:

Cupping, is the application of suction cups to the skin to draw out stagnant, congested blood and stale qi (vital force) as well as other stagnant or morbid humors. The technique Green Alchemy uses is called ‘Fire Twinkling Method’ using cups made of clear glass. This classical method creates suction in the cup by using a flame to consume the air within it. In ancient times the cups or vessels were made of bamboo, bone or horn.

Note* one of Green Alchemy\’s clients was treated with cupping during the cold period preceding the spring (in the Netherlands) A few days after the treatment she returned to her work with rosy cheeks and sparkly eyes ..her colleagues thought she had returned from a mini holiday in the Canary Isles.

(Thanks to for being a great source of information on ancient healing modalities and cupping)


Cortney Singleton

Acupuncture Physician

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