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What is Cupping Therapy?

Cupping therapy is an ancient, alternative manual treatment that involves special cups and suction. This type of alternative treatment has existed for thousands of years coming from the ancient Egyptian, Chinese and Middle Eastern cultures but became mainstreamed after athletes at the 2016 Olympics arrived to their events with bruised, circle marks on their body.


  • What is cupping?

  • Types of cupping

  • Known (beliefs) benefits of cupping

  • Scientific theories behind cupping

  • Downfalls to cupping

  • Are there risks to cupping?

  • Cautious key points

  • Final Thoughts

What is Cupping?

Cupping is a simple treatment but still requires a professionally trained therapist to execute the process. Special cups are placed on common areas of the body where stress and tension can occur (commonly back and shoulders) by creating a tight seal around the skin via suction. This suction can be created by two different practices; heating a glass cup with a flame or a plastic cup via manual handpump.

These cups will remain on the body for just a few minutes allowing the suction force to expand your capillaries (blood vessels) and draw blood cells into the area of treatment; this is the cause for the red and purple bruising.

Types of Cupping

Dry Cupping

Dry cupping is simply using only the cups to lift your skin and expand your capillaries to the area of treatment without involving any blood.

Wet Cupping

Wet cupping includes using the cups to lift your skin then removing the cups to be followed with drawing blood out from your skin using minor piercings with a scalpel. To complete this process, the therapist will replace the cups over the cut areas repeating the suction process to remove additional blood; traditional therapist believe this method will remove more harmful substances and toxins.

Known (Belief) Benefits for Cupping

- Helps reduce aches and pains

- Promotes relaxation

- Improve skin diseases

- Helps with migraines

- Helps improve respiratory issues

Scientific Theories for Pain Reduction After Cupping

Pain Gate Theory

This theory is the belief that the spinal cord contains a neurological "gate" that either blocks pain signals or allows them to continue on to the brain. Although more evidence is required, studies suggest that creating pressure onto the skin via cupping will close that "pain gate" stopping the pain signals from moving to the brain.

Diffuse Noxious Inhibitory Controls

This theory refers to an internal pain modulatory pathway which has often been described as "pain inhibits pain". It occurs when response from a painful stimulus is inhibited by another unpleasant stimulus. It's thought that cupping therapy may produce an analgesic effect via nerves that are sensitive to mechanical stimulation; essentially, one pain will mask another pain.

Release of Nitric Oxide Theory

Nitric Oxide (NO) is a signaling gas molecule that mediates vasodilatation and regulates blood flow and volume. Cupping therapy could cause the release of NO from endothelial cells and induce certain beneficial biological changes that can help reduce aches and pains.

Downfalls to Cupping

Unfortunately, there is always two sides to a story. For some, cupping can bring wonders and for others, cupping is known to be a bunch of "hocus pocus". Even though cupping has existed for thousands of years, there is not enough "strong" scientific evidence to prove that cupping can reduce pain, promote relaxation or help with respiratory issues.

Are There Risks to Cupping?

Most experts state that side effects are limited and that cupping is safe. However, if one chose to complete a wet cupping procedure some risks include infections due to unsterilized tools and improper execution.

Cautious Key Points

Before jumping right into cupping, remember these following points:

  • Avoid cupping in skin infections areas

  • Avoid cupping over open wounds (counter intuitive to wet cupping)

  • Not recommended for pregnancy

Final thoughts

Even though this practice requires more research to validate it's stated benefits, I personally believe that cupping has helped me recover quicker, improved my overall mobility and has helped me improve my performance in all areas of fitness and overall quality of life.

Disclaimer: All information presented and written within this article are intended for informational purposes only. You should not rely on this information as a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you should choose to follow or participate in any workout, program or practice, you do so voluntarily and do not hold Initial Mile and it's founder responsible for any cause of injury or death. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other health-care professional.



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