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Cupping Therapy

Cupping Therapy


Cupping has been practiced for thousands of years throughout the world in countries like Egypt, China, and Greece to treat a variety of ailments, from headaches to digestive issues to pain.

May Reduce Pain and Sore Muscles

Cupping is often used to treat athletes and other people with sore muscles and pain, but cupping can be done for any active individual who has sore muscles, cramping, or tightness.

Some research suggests cupping can help with muscle recovery.

Cupping may also reduce chronic pain. In a research review of 26 studies published in November 2018 in Revista Latino-Americana de Enfermagem, authors found, in general, cupping therapy showed positive results on chronic back pain, yet there was limited standardization in the treatment protocols.

Another review, in a 2018 issue of BMJ Open, found that cupping led to significant reduction in pain, improvement in function, and improved quality of life in people with neck pain.

May Ease Headaches and Migraines

Some research suggests people who have chronic headaches or migraines can benefit from cupping. One uncontrolled study looked at 70 people with chronic tension or migraine headaches and found that those who underwent cupping had a 66 percent reduction in average headache severity. Participants also experienced a decrease in the number of headaches they had per month by 12.6 days.

study published in February 2019 in Biomedical Research and Therapy of 132 people with migraines found that those who were treated with cupping therapy had a significant reduction in pain intensity compared with those in the control group who did not receive cupping and just filled out assessments.

May Improve Carpal Tunnel Syndrome 

Some research suggests cupping may help treat carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition that causes numbness, tingling, and pain in the hand and forearm.

In one study of 52 patients with carpal tunnel syndrome and associated neck and shoulder pain, researchers treated 26 people with wet cupping to their trapezius region and another 26 people only with a heating pad to the same region. The authors found that those in the cupping group reported less pain a week following their session than those in the heating pad group.

In a study of 56 people with carpal tunnel syndrome published in the July 2019 Physiotherapy Research International, half were treated with routine physical therapy (which included transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation and ultrasound), while the other half received that routine treatment plus cupping therapy to the wrist region. The researchers found that those in the cupping group experienced a significant added improvement in symptom severity compared with participants who received physical therapy treatment alone, leading them to conclude that cupping can be an effective complementary treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome.

May Help With Arthritis

Cupping therapy may relieve symptoms of arthritis. One study compared the effects of cupping with the over-the-counter pain reliever acetaminophen in 20 people living with knee osteoarthritis. Those in the dry cupping group underwent 11 sessions over a two-week period, while the rest of the participants received 650 milligrams (mg) of acetaminophen three times a day for the same length of time. At the end of the study period, the researchers found that those in the cupping group had better results in terms of pain, morning stiffness, tenderness, and swelling than those taking the pain medication. Those in the acetaminophen group responded better to nighttime pain relief.

May Help With Fatigue and Improve Mood

Those who practice and regularly receive cupping therapy claim there are significant mental health benefits as well. Lana Butner, ND, a naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist based in New York City, says cupping can help with stress relief, increase relaxation and a sense of calm, and even help you sleep. “I get my best sleep after cupping,” she says.

While scientific research in these areas is very limited, there’s some evidence to support these benefits. A study in the August 2020 Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice looked at 91 people with chronic fatigue syndrome and found that five sessions of cupping improved fatigue, mood, and sleep. The results were even more pronounced after 10 cupping sessions.

Should You Try Cupping?

While cupping is safe for most people, individuals with skin conditions, such as dermatitis, ulcers, and edema (swelling) should avoid cupping. It’s also not advised for pregnant women and people with bleeding disorders, epilepsy, blood clotting issues, psoriasis, eczema, cancer, and chronic liver, kidney, or heart disease.

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