Dr. Gayle Fischer, DPT, MPT
So how does cupping work? Either heat or air is used to create a suction in special cups that are placed on the body. The vacuum that’s created pulls the skin and blood vessels in toward the cup, which is why they can leave marks on the skin. Cupping is thought to pull blood to a certain area, and improve circulation and loosen up muscles and joints. There’s also some suggestion that it has anti-inflammatory effects.
In traditional Chinese medicine, the theory is that cupping can influence the flow of energy or “qi” through the body, says Bauer. If someone’s flow is blocked or stagnant, a practitioner might use cupping to impact the flow. Western practitioners may focus more on what the therapy might be doing to muscles or blood flow.
Some question whether there’s enough clinical evidence to say cupping is definitely effective—though it has been studied.
A 2010 review of 550 clinical studies, including 73 randomized controlled trials—which are considered the gold-standard study in the science community— concluded that the “majority of studies show potential benefit on pain conditions, herpes zoster and other diseases.” None of the studies reported serious bad health outcomes from the practice. Another 2014 review of 16 studies with 921 people reported short-term pain reduction from cupping.
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