2016: The Summer of Cupping
Two years ago when I opened Herb + Ōhm, if you told me that Michael Phelps would be responsible for a surge in our new patients, I would never have believed you. And yet, a couple of weeks ago during the Summer Games in Rio, when Michael Phelps showed up to his events sporting perfectly circular purple marks across his shoulders and swam for a record number of Gold medal wins—that’s exactly what happened! News outlets couldn’t get enough of Cupping and its many benefits—and modern Chicagoans are no different. Phelps and his fellow Olympians shined a light on what Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners have known all along: Cupping is a form of Eastern Medicine that has helped patients all over the world to feel better and has been a go-to for acupuncturists for thousands of years!
When does the body most benefit from Cupping?
We use cupping most often in practice to treat pain. (That helps to explain why so many Olympic athletes were sporting Cupping marks). Whenever there is an obstruction in the body (lack of blood or fluid circulation for example), the result is often pain, stiffness or some kind of pathology (sickness). But why? Blood carries critical nutrients and oxygen to all of our cells to help with survival. Less blood flow means less circulation, less circulation means less function, less function often results in pain. Pain is one of the body's main forms of communication when there is something wrong inside of us. In this way, pain can be a good thing. It functions as the body’s warning system to alert us that action is needed.
So what is cupping and how does it work?
The concept of Cupping is fairly simple: the treatment involves applying light suction to the body via a cup (shown in the video below). After a period of time (5-15 minutes) the result is generally a pink, red or purplish circular mark at the skin's surface. The visible color you see post-treatment correlates with the degree of obstruction that was found within that particular area of the body. We use the suction of the cups to pull that obstruction or stagnation out of the deep muscle tissue and toward the body's surface. This way, the body can break it down and return to a healthy state of circulation and function. The remaining color is a combination of toxins, lactic acid, lymph, fluids and blood that's been stagnating in the body, inhibiting good circulation to that area. Once it is pulled to the surface, fresh blood takes its place delivering nutrients and oxygen to that area to facilitate healing.
Why doesn't everyone who experiences pain in a certain body area have colored marks on their skin after cupping?
Good question! We use cupping to mainly treat pain of the muscles. If someone has lower back pain and we try cupping, but not a lot of color comes to the surface, this usually tells us that the pain may be coming from deeper areas of the body such as the bones, joints, nerves or even organ systems. So, in this way, cupping acts as a diagnostic method as well. However, let's keep in mind that our muscles are connected to the rest of the body via connective tissue, so any benefit to the muscles can also benefit other areas of the body such as nerves, joints, bones etc. Applying cupping to any painful area can still yield benefits even if a lot of color does not result from treatment.
To give you a better sense of how Cupping works, we included some photos of a typical cupping set we use at Herb + Ōhm, as well as founder Dr. Amy Wolf, DACM, performing cupping on her shoulder after she injured it a couple days prior (shown above).
We also recently hosted The Dolls from the blog Welcome to the Dollhouse, who visited us to experience cupping first-hand and report back on the procedure and its benefits. Read their post, and take a look at the video below: http://onceuponadollhouse.com/cupping-herb-and-ohm/
If you’ve been curious about Cupping, since it has been the center of so much recent attention, we offer stand-alone Cupping treatments for pain or injuries. It’s also included as part of our normal acupuncture visits, if you’re interested in a more holistic appointment. Happy Cupping!