When it comes to being healthy, I find myself in a daily routine to maintain the “practice what you preach” model of living. With that said, it is not uncommon for me to backslide on my fitness during times of stress and holiday months.
I am also very familiar with the challenges that come with getting back into a daily and weekly fitness regimen, which always inflames old wounds. These old injuries, in my case, come from living a pretty active lifestyle with more than my fair share of extreme moments that should have been better thought through.
Recently I was dealing with what I can only describe as a partially dislocated rib. Don’t ask, and yes, extremely painful. Since this is a reoccurring injury and one that is not easy to remedy, I thought I would try a lesser known traditional Chinese medicine practice called “Cupping.”
In Chinese medicine, cupping is the term that describes the use of various-sized glass cups or jars. These cups are heated on the inside of the cup and applied as a suction device to your skin to help break up adhesions, open blood flow, improve circulation and move stagnation to the surface of the skin.
There are two types of cupping, dry cupping and wet cupping, both having particular applications within the practice. Dry cupping is done with just the cups and suction while wet cupping is where blood is drawn through the skin after small punctures are made.
The actual practice of cupping as a prescription to treat ailments goes back a few thousand years and is a common practice of Chinese medicine. There are other forms of cupping practiced across many cultures. These cultural variations use different devices, methods and are often tied to a spiritual ceremony. In almost every case, each style or type of cupping treatment was done with the belief that illnesses, blood stagnation, and impurities can be sucked out or moved to the surface of the body.
Now I know this treatment may sound a little bit odd, and to some not something they would ever try. Before you dismiss cupping entirely, it may be worth looking at some of its benefits.
Research dating all the way back to the 1950s have found substantial evidence that cupping does have distinct health benefits for some. In my case, I was having discomfort around and under my scapula. This area of the back can be challenging to apply deep tissue massage, and chiropractic methods often can’t help get under scapula to break down extensive adhesions.
Cupping is usually done by an acupuncturist specializing in Chinese Medicine, and of course, I went to my go-to person Lise Takashina for the treatment. The method involved in my treatment required heating the cups and putting the cup immediately against my skin. In some cases, the cups were placed strategically around the area while the procedure was also being supported with acupuncture placements around crucial trigger points to release the muscles pulling my rib out of place.
In a different aspect, the cups were heated and placed on my skin then moved up and down - a practice referred to as “gliding cupping.” This gliding cupping pulls the muscles and blood flow, allowing for the muscle adhesions to loosen, relax and break down.
When applying the gliding cupping process, medicinal massage oils are used to improve movement of the glass cups along the skin. The suction in the cups causes the superficial muscle layers and blood flow to be gently moved after being drawn into the cup. This treatment is not for everyone, and I can tell you it feels both good and discomforting. In my case, it offered some immediate relief over the course of a few days.
The cupping process comes with a mixed bag of soreness and some skin irritation, which is offset by the therapeutic oils. You can expect to see improvements from the cupping process take effect up to 48 hours after the process in the treated area. During that same 48-hour window, your soreness settles down and you will feel normal again.
One point I should make is the lingering round bruise marks associated with the cupping treatment. During summer months, these large purple spots do not make an excellent fashion statement and can take a couple of weeks to disappear.
I can tell you the best acupuncturist can apply cupping efficiently and the practice does have a broad group of health issues it can treat. A skilled cupping application can manage everything from pain management, skin health, improved digestion, reduced stress and even help with respiratory problems.
For me, after just two sessions of cupping and an additional week of healing, my very painful rib/scapula issue had pretty much disappeared. I believe acupuncture and cupping both filled a niche as a healthcare practice that other areas just can’t efficiently address. If you’re interested in learning more, talk with an experienced licensed certified acupuncturist. These treatments are not suited for everyone, so do your homework.