Dr. Ochi offers primary care services and specializes in women’s health and endocrinology. She is also a licensed acupuncturist and incorporates this ancient treatment with naturopathic and/or conventional medicine to address women’s health issues, digestive problems, pain and anxiety. She is currently accepting new patients.
If you’ve been watching the Rio Olympics, you might have wondered about the red or purple bruise-like marks on the backs and shoulder of some athletes like Michael. These marks are from cupping, which is an ancient form of manual therapy that originated in China and is still used around the world today. It’s been around for a while – a description of cupping has been found in an Egyptian medical text dating back to 1550 B.C.
In a cupping session, suction is created inside glass or plastic cups by using heat or pumps. The cups are then placed on specific areas of the body for five to ten minutes. Running cupping is another technique in which the cups are moved back and forth across the body. Although it can leave nasty-looking bruises which might not look great during bikini season, it’s not painful.
Cupping is often used to reduce pain. Athletes claim that they also use it to help them recover faster. It can relieve pain because the suction stimulates blood flow to an area and helps break up adhesions. Studies have shown that it helps with chronic neck and shoulder pain.[i],[ii] It can also help with low back pain.[iii]
However, cupping can be useful for non-musculoskeletal pain as well. Results from an Indian study earlier this year suggest that cupping may help reduce menstrual pain in women.[iv] The combination of cupping and acupressure also significantly reduced perineal pain in women after delivery.[v]
Do you suffer from migraine headaches and are concerned about the side effects of migraine medications? Cupping was found to be as effective as medications for treating migraine headache frequency, severity and duration.[vi]
Do you have high blood pressure that is not well controlled with medications? Adding in some cupping may help. Saudi Arabian researchers found cupping with medications to be more effective at reducing systolic blood pressure than just medications alone, and the effects were sustained for up to 4 weeks.[vii]
Cupping may even help with infertility. Natural killer (NK) cells are part of our immune systems, and NK cell over-activity has been associated with reproductive issues in women. In a paper published in May this year, Ukrainian researchers found that cupping can decrease natural killer cell toxicity and number.[viii] It may be that cupping’s effectiveness at reducing pain associated with autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia may be explained by its effects on white blood cells.
I use cupping most often in my practice to help with musculoskeletal pain, as well as relieving symptoms of colds and flus and other respiratory tract infections. I use it in conjunction with acupuncture, as well as other natural or pharmaceutical treatments if appropriate. If you’d like to give it a try, please schedule a visit with me at SageMED.
[i] Chi LM, Lin LM, Chen CL et al. The Effectiveness of Cupping Therapy on Relieving Chronic Neck and Shoulder Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016;2016:7358918.
[ii] Arslan M, Gökgöz N, Dane Ş. The effect of traditional wet cupping on shoulder pain and neck pain: A pilot study. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2016 May;23:30-3.
[iii] AlBedah A, Khalil M, Elolemy A et al. The Use of Wet Cupping for Persistent Nonspecific Low Back Pain: Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2015 Aug;21(8):504-8.
[iv] Inanmdar W, Sultana A, Mubeen U, Rahman K. Clinical efficacy of Trigonella foenum graecum (Fenugreek) and dry cupping therapy on intensity of pain in patients with primary dysmenorrhea. Chin J Integr Med. 2016 May 25.
[v] Akbarzade M, Ghaemmaghami M, Yazdanpanahi Z et al. Comparison of the Effect of Dry Cupping Therapy and Acupressure at BL23 Point on Intensity of Postpartum Perineal Pain Based on the Short Form of McGill Pain Questionnaire. J Reprod Infertil. 2016 Jan-Mar;17(1):39-46.
[vi] Firoozabadi MD, Navabzadeh M, Roudsari MK, Zahmatkash M. Comparative efficacy trial of cupping and serkangabin versus conventional therapy of migraine headaches: A randomized, open-label, comparative efficacy trial. J Res Med Sci. 2014 Dec;19(12):1134-9.
[vii] Aleyeidi NA, Aseri KS, Matbouli SM et al. Effects of wet-cupping on blood pressure in hypertensive patients: a randomized controlled trial. J Integr Med. 2015 Nov;13(6):391-9.