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Cupping Therapy

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Have you heard about Cupping? You probably saw them too, the Olympic swimmers in Rio with those big purple circles on their backs? If you think it was a hickey or a hip tattoo, think again. Those circles are caused by cupping massages, the latest trend in sports care. Cupping is an alternative therapy in which the skin is vacuum sucked. The therapy is controversial, but apparently there are enough athletes who believe in the healing power of cupping – and perhaps they are right to do so, as Michael Phelps did win a gold medal after all.

How does cupping work?

This therapy is as old as the hills. Or rather as old as China, because it dates back to the traditional, ancient Chinese medicine. The basic principle of cupping: create a vacuum on the skin, causing the skin to be pulled up and more blood to be drawn to that spot. Actually, you can compare it with a large hickey, leaving you with the same red souvenir on the skin. Of course, no kissing is involved with therapy, but the manipulation is done with cups (hence the name “cupping”). Usually, the cups are first filled with a burning substance, such as alcohol or paper, so that they heat up. Then, the cups are placed on the skin whilst they are still warm. This creates the vacuum. Painful? Mmm… Lets put it this way: a hickey is probably a lot more pleasant.

Health effects of cupping

Why would a sane person let their back and shoulders be hurt with hot cups? Because cupping helps restoring your muscles, it relieves aching, heals inflammation and gives the bloodstream a boost. Or at least, that is what people claim. According to the British Cupping Society, this therapy may also help in diseases such as anemia, acne, eczema, migraine and even fertility problems.

Types of cupping

  1. Dry cupping – In this case, the skin is only vacuum pulled.
  2. Wet cupping – After the treatment, small incisions are made on the skin. After this, the same procedure is repeated. The suction causes bleeding, which seems to rid the body of toxins.

Panacea or quackery?

The healing power of cupping has never been established scientifically. The Association against Quackery does not endorse it at all and is firmly against it. But high level athletes do not care about this. They believe that the therapy helps to optimize their muscle power in a legal manner, which allows them to enhance their performance. Even Hollywood seems to be totally captivated by cupping. Many celebrities seem to undergo treatments with hot cups. It is unlikely they do it to improve their sports performance, but rather as the latest panacea in the fight against cellulite and aging.

The risks

Do you want to undergo a cupping treatment? Make sure that you visit a professional therapist. In the UK, the British Cupping Society can help you choose a professional therapist, as you do not want to undergo treatment with someone not working according to proper hygiene standards or who does not know what he/she is doing. You could risk burns or contracting a hepatitis B infection. You also have to consider the potential side effects. Apart from the red circles on your skin where the cups have been placed, you may experience (painful) bruising and an inflamed skin.

Sources: BBC, Men’s Health, London Cupping Clinic, British cupping Society

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