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Cupping is a technique in which a glass cup is suctioned onto the body and allowed to sit for about 10 minutes. Cupping stimulates the flow of blood, lymphatic fluid, and Qi (energy) to the affected area; relieves swelling; and greatly enhances an acupuncture or electro-acupuncture treatment. Its uses include cellulite reduction, relieving muscle pain, especially back pain from stiffness or injury; and clearing congestion in the chest, which can occur with common colds, influenza, and even asthma. Most therapies, such as massage, can increase stimulation and temporarily relieve pain but cupping can draw new blood flow into the area while increasing the bodies’ ability to detoxify muscles of lactic acid.

Cupping is usually incorporated into an acupuncture treatment, but can be used alone. I take a specialized glass cup or globe, slightly larger than a baby food jar, and I create suction using a hemostat (a locking medical scissor) and a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol. With a lighter, I ignite the cotton ball and quickly place the hemostat all the way to the top of the cup. Then, as quickly as possible, I pull the hemostat out of the cup and place the cup on the site of the body that we are working on. The negative pressure created by the absence of oxygen draws the skin up a few millimeters into the cup. This suction stimulates the flow of blood, lymph, and Qi to the affected area. The suction can leave red marks on the skin that last a few days. Often, I will add a thick salve to the area that is affected so that I can perform massage cupping. Massage cupping can have the same benefits as static cupping but oftentimes it will allow me to work in a larger area. For the patient, it feels like a deep tissue massage and is very relaxing.

Cupping can be an amazing tool as it is both a diagnostic element and a treatment. The darker the marks are on the body, the more circulation impedance and toxicity is shown. Progress then would be evident with lighter marks that heal in less time. Most of my patients who have cupping for the first time will notice it’s benefit that same day and request it in the future.

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