Other treatment methods also include cupping – an ancient technique used by Chinese medicine practitioners to restore balance in a person’s Qi. One of the earliest documentations of cupping can be found in the work titled A Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies. This was written by a Daoist herbalist by the name of Ge Hong and dates to around 300 AD.
Cupping is the term applied to a technique that uses small glass cups as suction devices. Traditionally, bamboo cups were placed on the skin (now glass or plastic). Suction is created by placing an inverted glass cup over a small flame. The flame is removed and the cup (now with a vacuum) is placed onto the skin.
Once the suction has occurred, the cups can either be left in place or gently moved across the skin (often referred to as “gliding cupping). The suction in the cups causes the skin and superficial muscle layer to be lightly drawn into the cup. Cupping is much like the inverse of massage – rather than applying pressure to muscles, it uses gentle pressure to pull them upward. For most patients, this is a particularly relaxing and relieving sensation. Once suctioned, the cups are generally left in place for about ten minutes while the patient relaxes.
Generally, cupping is combined with acupuncture in one treatment, but it can also be used alone. The suction and negative pressure provided by cupping encourages the Qi to flow more freely. As a result, this can loosen muscles, encourage blood flow, and calm the nervous system.
Cupping is used to relieve back and neck pains, stiff muscles and it is also an invaluable treatment for the lungs to help clear congestion from a common cold. It can also help to control a person’s asthma. In fact, respiratory conditions are one of the most common maladies that cupping is used to relieve. Three thousand years ago, in the earliest Chinese documentation of cupping, it was recommended for the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis.
The following research article explains in more detail, the various mechanisms by which the beneficial effects of cupping may be explained from a biomedical perspective:
Further review on available research on the benefits of cupping:
Massage of the tissues (either with or without oil) may also be included, to free the flow of Qi in the meridian system. It therefore, can be used to influence the muscles and circulation of blood and lymph.
Various techniques can be used, to rub, stretch, tap or percuss the muscles. Most patients are generally more familiar with this treatment method from their experience of Western massage techniques. The main difference, is that the type of massage that an acupuncturist will use, will involve techniques focussed on specific meridians. In addition, working at various depths and in certain directions also influence the flow of Qi through the body.