What Is Cupping Therapy?

“…seeing my husband suffering excruciating and chronic muscle pain and joint inflammations due to strenuous training in MMA…regular high-impact workouts are no easy task. They leave muscles stiff, restrict mobility and cause persistent aches in the back, shoulders, neck and lower body that can easily turn into a real detriment for passionate athletes…natural, efficient and an inexpensive…benefits of a traditional Cupping Therapy…”

Stella Rubinshteyn

Cupping Recovery Techniques

Cupping is a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) recovery practice that involves placing cups full of heated air on the skin so that a vacuum and suction are created as the air cools. These cups are placed over acupuncture points, thereby drawing blood and energy into a certain prescribed area to increase blood flow, loosen tight fascia, and facilitate healing and recovery. The cups used in cupping are typically made of glass, bamboo, silicone, or earthenware. There are different modalities for cupping which are used for different purposes and types of recovery treatments. 

In China, 7 major types of cupping are typically used. These types include:

  • Dry cupping: The classic technique which uses heat to create suction, and is often used in the U.S.
  • Moving cupping: Which moves the cup in the same direction.
  • Wet cupping: Where tiny cuts are made to allow a small amount of blood to flow.
  • Flash cupping: That allows suction first then immediate removal of cup.
  • Needling cupping: That has acupuncture needles applied first to area, then suction cupping.
  • Retained cupping: Which means the cups are left on with suction for a sustained period, for example, 5 to 15 minutes.
  • Medicinal cupping: Which is cupping used to help heal a specific medical issue such as fibromyalgia, for which it has been proven very effective[5].

Martial Artists find Cupping Therapy Effective for Treating Pain

Pain for martial artists typically occurs through accident, injury, illness, or age. Pain is often the body’s way of posting a warning sign, like ‘don’t move your knee like that!’ The body uses pain to protect itself against further injury, warning against improper foot placement, wrong knee angles, overzealous bag work, over training, and exhaustion. All martial artists experience serious pain at some point in their practice. 

Almost 80% of doctor visits involve complaints of pain, and issues of chronic or reoccurring pain have been reported for over 75% of Americans.

Doctor visits involve pain 
Reoccurring pain

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Cupping Stops Spasms and Increases Blood Flow

This network assists in regulating blood pressure, along with blood flow in and out of organs and tissues. They bring blood to the body’s tissues while transferring out inflammatory cells, excess heat, and solutes[7]. Research into cupping shows increased blood and energy is focused upon acupoints and meridians, resulting in a release from pain and tension because of hemostasis or hyperemia. 

Cupping Therapy | Fighting Arts Health Lab

It helps rid the body of accumulated toxins, intensely oxygenizing the area of treatment, stimulating the nervous system, and jumpstarts healing. Cupping is still being researched, and the exact manner in which it works is still unclear, although many ways it achieves results have become clearly established. There are many physical issues that consistently show positive results and relief when cupping techniques are utilized, but like any healing modality, it does not work(link) for every person or for every issue[8].

Ancient Therapy Seen in a New Light

Cupping Therapy For Martial Artists

There is a reason why cupping was shown being used in the film, The Karate Kid. That is because the same principles applied in traditional Chinese medicine and cupping are used in martial arts such as tanglang, wushu, tai chi, and other traditional martial styles. Cupping uses principles such as balancing the bodies’ energies, meridians, or Qi, basic knowledge of anatomy and physiology in ways similar to traditional martial arts because they sprang from the same source.

Conor McGregor Cupping | Fighting Arts Health Lab

Spasming muscles can diminish quality of life, much less speed and power when striking. This type of tight binding, knots, and spasms can even pull on vertebrae, cause headaches through tense neck muscles pulling on occipital areas, cause numbness or tingling, and referred pain to other parts of the body such as legs. Cupping therapy has been shown to help relieve and release these types of areas[12]. If these are older, chronic issues, more treatments will be required for healing, loosening, and maintaining relaxed muscles. Releasing these types of painfully tight areas will improve martial arts techniques.

Cupping Benefits | Fighting Arts Health Lab

Cupping Therapy Affects the Nervous System

What To Expect When Cupping

The cups are small, hollow and typically very light, made of glass, bamboo, silicone, or earthenware. The martial artist typically lies down or sits while the practitioner creates suction inside the cup by using heat, like a lit match, flaming piece of paper, or mechanical devices, such as hand or electrical pumps. The cup is applied to the affected area, whether dry, with oil, or other methods, and as the air inside the cup cools. 

Six Reactions After Cupping | Fighting Arts Health Lab

Cupping Works For Many Issues

Cupping Therapy Forces Muscles To Relax

Cupping Tools | Fighting Arts Health Lab

Massage may be applied to the muscles at this point of deep relaxation, and will have a more profound effect. Dit Da Jow, Tiger balm Amazon Links[20]. Battle Balm, Hemp CBD oil, or other healing Amazon Links[21]. ointment may be applied at this point to help the muscles recover after treatment. Cupping technique is repeated often as necessary over days or weeks to get muscles unknotted, unkinked, and fully relaxed.

Cupping Therapy Is A Safe Treatment

Cupping Treatment | Fighting Arts Health Lab

Primary concerns are efficiency of treatment, overly bruising the skin, and possible burns. Treatment will leave temporary circular discolorations that fade typically in days or occasionally in weeks, and side effects are generally no more that a slight pinching during treatment. Treatment by a trained practitioner will provide safe, economical, treatment for many issues[22].

Cupping Effective When Combined With Other Treatments

Cupping therapy combines well with other treatments, such as acupuncture, massage, and medications. Combined treatment showed increased benefit over other single treatments alone in effectiveness for herpes zoster, acne, facial paralysis, and cervical spondylosis. It is common practice in China to combine TCM treatments with Western medicine, when needed, to enhance efficiency.

Doing Cupping Therapy at Home for Pain Control, Recovery, Injury, And/Or Beauty

Do It Yourself Cupping for Home Use

DIY Home Cupping | Fighting Arts Health Lab

A gentle gliding action is involved to increase blood circulation. Flash cupping can also be used, which involves allowing suction to occur, then immediately removing cup. Never leave the cup standing still on the delicate skin of the inner thigh, face, neck, or chest. It should never stand static in one position to avoid broken capillaries or undesired redness. Always anchor skin with the other hand while gently massaging area. There are several companies that have designed specialty cupping kits, for use on nearly any part of the body.

They have cupping sets for relieving muscle spasms and joint pain, increasing mobility, shortening recovery time, increasing circulation, helping with sinus, colds, and cough. Plus they have cosmetic kits for use on face, eyes and lips, toning and shaping the body, and reducing cellulite. Lure Essentials is one that appears to be excellently researched, gives fast results, reasonably priced, and has tutorials, along with directions[24] [25].

Cautions When Cupping

Mild adverse effects from cupping may include hematoma and pain at the treated site, increasing local pain or tingling. Dr. Lin Zhi-xiu, a registered Chinese medicine practitioner and acting director of the School of Chinese Medicine at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK).

Dr. Lin Zhi-xiu

Cupping is usually very safe, especially under the care of qualified TCM practitioners.Two health dangers are skin burns due to dripping alcohol, and skin blisters due to excessively tight cupping and the cup being left on the body for too long.

Contraindications When Cupping

It is important to follow safety guidelines with any kind of treatment. Be very cautious treating anyone who has diabetes, is elderly or has very thin skin. Cupping should not be performed on people with underlying health conditions, as more serious side effects can occur. Cupping should not replace necessary conventional treatment.

It’s very rare for cupping to cause serious problems, though skin infections, anemia, and skin pigmentation, have been reported. Treatment is not advised on pregnant women (unless great care is taken), those who suffer from heart conditions, blood clots, cancer, are on blood thinners, diabetes, have varicose veins, or certain other medical conditions.

Cupping Therapy Requires More Research

NIH Center for Complementary and Integrated Health | Fighting Arts Health Lab

Research results have shown that cupping gives many benefits to martial artists that are difficult to find elsewhere, including extremely quick pain, spasm, and injury relief, deep tissue relaxation, and increased immune system function. 

Cupping therapy has proven useful in many types of pain control and improvement of quality of life, is non-invasive, reasonably priced, has minimal risks or side effects, and is very safe when treatment is performed by a professionally trained practitioner. It also has proven useful for DYI treatments, if proper instructions and cautions are followed.