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Image of Gwyneth Paltrow's back: cupping aftermath?Cupping is a method of treatment used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) that involves heating the air inside a cup and placing the inverted cup on some part of the body. A vacuum is created, which anchors the cup to the skin and pulls the skin upward. It is believed by practitioners of TCM that disease is due to stagnation or blocked chi and cupping will unblock and realign chi, thereby restoring health. "Wet" cupping involves puncturing the skin before applying the cup. It is believed that this allows "poisons" and "toxins" to be sucked out of the body. In some cases, the cup may be moved while the suction of skin is active, causing a regional pulling of the skin and muscle (the technique is called gliding cupping). According to Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D., director of the Institute for Traditional Medicine in Portland, Oregon, "cupping is applied by acupuncturists to certain acupuncture points, as well as to regions of the body that are affected by pain (where the pain is deeper than the tissues to be pulled)."*  Advocates claim that cupping causes tissues to release toxins; activates the lymphatic system; clears colon blockages; helps activate and clear the veins, arteries and capillaries; activates the skin; clears stretch marks; and improves varicose veins.*

The cups may be made of such things as wood, bamboo, plastic, glass, or metal.

For those who wish to combine magnet therapy with cupping and enjoy the benefits of two pseudosciences at once, the Magic Mengshi Cup is recommended.

According to Jack Raso (1997), cupping results in "erythema (reddening of the skin due to capillary expansion), edema (excessive fluid accumulation in tissue spaces), and ecchymoses (purple discoloration of the skin due to rupture of blood vessels)." In other words, bruising is likely to occur. Any bruising or swelling is likely to be minor, temporary, and will probably go away within a few days. However, Professor Edzard Ernst of the department of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter says that cupping could cause burns. "There is no evidence for its efficacy," according to Ernst. "It has not been submitted to clinical trials, but there have certainly been satisfied customers for 3,000 years."*

According to the American Cancer Society, "There is no scientific evidence that cupping leads to any health benefits....No research or clinical studies have been done on cupping. Any reports of successful treatment with cupping are anecdotal. There is no scientific evidence that cupping can cure cancer or any other disease."

See also alternative health practice, energy, and pragmatic fallacy.

further reading

Energy Healing: Looking in All the Wrong Places by Robert Todd Carroll

Edzard Ernst's Ten Commandments of Quackery

"Cupping" by Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D., Director, Institute for Traditional Medicine, Portland, Oregon

Cassileth, Barrie R. (1999). The Alternative Medicine Handbook: The Complete Reference Guide to Alternative and Complementary Therapies. W. W. Norton & Co.

Last updated 31-Oct-2015


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