And you thought acupuncture had been around the block a while, cupping is actually one of, if not the, oldest medical technique that we know of. It’s so old in fact that it’s part of the Ebers Papyrus, the oldest collection of medical writings we have. It’s in this collection of Egyptian medical treatments from 1550BC that cupping is first detailed.
One way to get your head around it is to think that cupping was already well over 1000 years old by the time Cleopatra was born, it was as old to her as the invasion of Britain by William the Conqueror is to us. And it still works!
The treatment consists of using small cups to create a vacuum that gently pulls the underlying skin and tissues. Similar to that thing you did as a child where you sucked all the air out of the cup you were drinking out of to get it stuck to your face? Just me? Okay.
There are two main cupping techniques; either using a hand pump to draw the air out of the cups after being placed on the body or by using a flame to create a vacuum in the cup and then placing the cup on your body. In either case, the result is the same, the cups stick to your body and stretch the tissues underneath.
“That sounds a bit silly, how’s that meant to help?” I hear you asking. Well actually in a number of ways. The suction increases surface skin temperature which helps tackle local inflammation and pain (cupping treatment is specifically good at chronic neck and shoulder pain). (1) It helps to relax muscles, fascia, connective, soft tissues and increases circulation. This enables a fresh supply of blood and helps the body recover excess fluids, reducing swelling. (2)
The cups are usually placed in and around areas of pain and stiffness, left for a maximum of 15 minutes, and then removed. Sometimes the cups are moved around gently over the area to further encourage blood flow. You may have seen people with cupping marks - big round bruises - they might look painful, but cupping treatment should not hurt! The bruises aren’t usually painful to touch, they’re just a result of burst capillaries in the surface of the skin and resolve in a few days. The majority of cupping treatment doesn’t bruise at all, it only tends to leave a bruise in the most problematic areas.
Cupping comes in several forms, including creating the vacuum with an open flame and ‘wet cupping’ which involved letting blood and placing the cup over the area. While other forms of cupping do have well-documented results and benefits, we only practice cupping with a small pump at Mango, because it’s safer and we don’t want to set anyone on fire.
People with blood-clotting disorders or using blood-thinning medication are advised not to have cupping treatment.