Does “cupping” reduce pain?
CUPping” has received attention recently with discussion of Olympic athletes using the practice to relieve pain and improve performance. However, evidence for the effectiveness of cupping is mixed.
Cupping therapy is a traditional Chinese medical practice that is popular in Asia, the Middle East, and in some parts of Europe. During treatment, a cup is placed on the skin over muscles and a vacuum is created to remove the air inside the cup. The vacuum against the skin is thought to promote blood flow to the tissue underneath the cup, which might bring relief of pain and tension. Cupping typically leaves reddish to purple circles on the body where the cups were placed. The bruises can take several days to weeks to fade.
Cupping is generally considered safe but should always be performed by a qualified professional. One obvious side effect is the circular bruises. Patients also report feeling warmer during the treatment and sometimes sweat more. Cupping is not recommended if you are pregnant or menstruating, or if you have metastatic cancer or bone fracture. It shouldn’t be applied to injured skin. There’s an increased risk of complication when the duration of treatment lasts more than 20 minutes, and some patients have been burned during cupping therapy.
How effective is cupping? The jury is still out at this point. There haven’t been enough studies to say definitively how effective cupping is at reducing pain compared to other pain management techniques. More rigorous research is needed before cupping can be called an effective treatment for pain. Talk with your doctor or healthcare provider before adding cupping to your pain management plan.
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