If you watched the Rio Olympics, you must have noticed several dark circular spots on the shoulders and back of Michael Phelps. Millions of people around the globe saw these spots when he took off this blazer as he was getting ready for the 4-men relay swimming competition.
People were astonished and wondered what these spots were on Michael Phelps body. As it turns out, the circles are the result of cupping, a therapy technique that athletes use to help their muscles recover and perform at their best. It involves a therapist placing small glass cups on the skin and pulling them from the body to loosen and relax the muscles.
Cupping have been used extensively to treat a range of disorders and symptoms. Cupping healers throughout the years have successfully treated a variety of symptoms and diseases that couldn’t be cured by conventional methods, including pulmonary tuberculosis, colds, back pains, muscle spasms and pinched nerves. Traditionally, cupping has also been used in patients with blood disorders (like anemia), rheumatic diseases like arthritis, fertility problems and mental illnesses.
From the scientific studies that have been done, it has been found that cupping works by expanding the capillaries and increasing the amount of fluid entering and leaving tissues. Besides this, cupping therapy seems to provoke a relaxation response in some people, which means it’s useful for lowering stress and its negative effects.
Benefits of Cupping (Hijama)
1. Reduce Pain
One of the most common reasons people turn to alternative treatment methods is because they’re looking for a safe way to naturally reduce joint pain and muscle pain. A report published in Evidence-Based Complimentary and Alternative Medicine found that cupping significantly reduced pain in people with low back issues compared to usual care treatments, showed positive effects in treating cancer pain compared with anticancer drugs and analgesics, and helped soothe pain associated with respiratory issues.
Cupping is thought to release tissues deep inside the body, relax tense muscles and ease stiffness associated with chronic back and neck pains, migraines, rheumatism, and fatigue. Some athletes have been known to use cupping therapy to naturally improve performance and reduce stiffness, muscle cramps, joint pains and scar tissue caused by injuries.
Cupping targets soft tissue by applying local pressure to pain points and areas of swelling. As blood flow increases within vessels and capillaries, tissues receive much-needed nutrients and oxygen. Cupping practitioners use pressure, suctioning and needles above or below the site of injury, allowing for energy to travel along the “channels” (meridians) that pass through the injury.
For help lowering pain, cups are commonly placed over the following areas: over the fleshy part of the shoulder blades, over the groin/loins, by the neck (for soothing tension headaches, toothaches or migraines) or around the lower back.
2. Promotes Relaxation
Cupping often helps alleviate physical complaints and allows people to enter a more relaxed state since it sedates the central nervous system. This is similar to acupuncture, which you might assume hurts and is uncomfortable but actually seems to help lower most patients’ stress responses and therefore offers protection against anxiety and depression.
How can cupping be relaxing? Just the act of laying still and being “taken care of” during cupping therapy sessions might have a positive effect on someone’s psychological well-being, which could be one reason why it’s used to lower mental illnesses. According to the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, another reason cupping is soothing is because the cups help lift pressure in tense muscles, which offers a relieving sensation just like receiving a deep tissue massage.
3. Boosts Skin Health
Cupping is used to reduce herpes, cellulite, acne and skin inflammation. While studies haven’t shown it can necessarily help with weight loss, the fact that it tones and firms skin by improving blood flow and expanding capillaries makes it popular among celebrities and people in the spotlight who want to appear to have toned skin. As part of a skin-clearing or cellulite treatment, oil is commonly first applied to the skin before the cups are suctioned and moved around, bringing heat to the area along with various skin-healing ingredients depending on the type of oil used.
Because cupping improves blood flow and might help lower inflammation, some studies have found it to be equally or even more effective at treating acne compared to antibiotics. A meta-analysis of six studies showed that for improving acne, the cure rate of wet cupping was better than the cure rate following use of tanshinone, tetracycline and ketoconazole prescriptions.
4. Helps Treat Respiratory Issues and Colds
Commonly used to help nourish the lungs and clear away phlegm or congestion, cupping therapy can be useful for speeding up healing time from respiratory illnesses like the flu or common colds. Cupping helps improve immune function by moving blood and lymphatic fluid throughout the body, which is why it’s been associated with reductions in lung diseases (especially chronic coughs), allergies, infections and asthma.
Treating respiratory conditions like pulmonary tuberculosis is one of the oldest uses for cupping and was utilized long before prescriptions were available.
5. Improves Digestion
Acupuncture and cupping are both popular ways to improve digestion and reduce symptoms from disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This might primarily be because they can lower a patient’s stress response, which is highly tied to healthy digestive functioning.
Throughout history, cupping therapy has been found to be beneficial for people with frequent stomach pains, diarrhea, acute gastritis, loss of appetite, gastrointestinal diseases and water retention. For digestive disturbances, cupping is commonly performed in the following areas: around the navel, over the bladder, around the kidneys or over the stomach.
*** Portions of this article taken from Dr. John Axe (www.draxe.com)