Michael Phelps competes at the Rio Olympics with circular bruises from cupping on his shoulders and back | Source: Huffington Post

Cupping Therapy: Pseudoscience or Miracle Treatment?

While Olympians donning circular bruises has led many of us to discover cupping therapy recently, the treatment is hardly new. With evidence proving that cupping therapy dates back to ancient times, the strange alternative medicine has long been used for a host of health benefits.

By placing a heated cup, often made out of glass, onto the skin for around three to five minutes, cupping therapy works by creating a vacuum effect that draws the skin upwards, promoting blood flow to the area. Practitioners will typically conduct the treatment on the back, however specific areas of pain can be targeted with cupping and other treatments like acupuncture and massage often accompany cupping.

While proponents of cupping therapy say that the ancient practice can treat conditions like sciatica, draw out toxins and even treat migraines is cupping really effective or just pseudoscience?

Types of cupping

Although cupping is disputed to have originated from ancient Egypt, China and Middle Eastern cultures, you have most likely come across the therapy at traditional Chinese medicine practices. Through a traditional Chinese medicine lens, cupping therapy promises to remove stagnation in the blood and increase the flow of ‘qi’ which is our vital life force or energy.

While many types of cupping will intersect and overlap between different culture’s interpretations, Chinese cupping techniques include ‘retained cupping’ where cups heated using the fire method are kept on the skin for 10 to 20 minutes and ‘flash cupping’ where a single cup is repeatedly placed onto and promptly removed from the skin.

There’s also ‘wet cupping’ which involves small incisions in the skin prior to cups behind placed on which is believed to remove harmful toxins from the body to promote healing. ‘Needle cupping’ is another technique that involves the insertion of acupuncture needles before cups are placed on the skin.

It’s not uncommon to hear anecdotal stories of sciatica all but disappearing and areas of muscular pain disappearing but what does the science say?

Can cupping really remove toxins?

Traditional Chinese medicine says that cupping can remove the body from harmful toxins, but what do recent research papers say?

Unfortunately, the answer to that question is not much. While one pilot study has linked wet cupping to reduced excess heavy metals in the blood, there’s still not enough evidence to confirm that cupping can remove toxins in the body.

In fact, across the board, high-quality research into the efficacy of cupping therapy is hard to come by with Harvard Health Publishing stating that creating “a convincing placebo comparator for cupping” makes blinded placebo-controlled trials difficult. So while there’s arguably more supporting evidence of cupping reducing muscular aches and pains, the therapy isn’t broadly backed by a wealth of knowledge.

Skin Gym’s Glass Cupping Set

Image: Skin Gym Glass Cupping Set $53.88

Experience the ancient cosmetic therapy of facial cupping with Skin Gym’s Glass Cupping Set. These silicone facial cups are designed to enhance your skin’s complexion and leave you with a luminous, radiant glow every time.

FITDASH Electric Cupping

FITDASH is a multifunctional dynamic cupping therapy device, combines dynamic suction, Intelligent vibration, heat, and red light therapy all in one device. It’s an incredible recovery tool for pain management and myofascial release, a perfect choice for both professional and home use.

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