Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps is currently sporting round marks from an oriental medicine practice known as “cupping.” Cupping is actually a traditional healing art in the field of oriental medicine. It’s been used in China for thousands of years, from the Qing dynasty onward.
During a cupping treatment, glass cups that look like miniature fish bowls are heated inside to produce a vacuum. The openings of the heated cups are then placed strategically on the surface of the patient’s skin. The suction forces the cup to adhere to the skin, gently pulling surface tissue up into the cup.
While cupping will leave slight bruising, patients are often well advised about this by their practitioner so that they aren’t surprised or scared when it happens.
It’s no surprise athletes are now using cupping as a therapy. “It works well on conditions where there is muscular pain, tightness or achiness,” says Dr. Fan.
Dr. Robin Fan teaches in the acupuncture and oriental medicine program at National University: “Although the marks look like the treatment might be painful, cupping is actually very comfortable, and once a patient receives the treatment, they often request it each time they come in,” she says.
Cupping isn’t only for athletes. Dr. Fan says cupping can be used for cosmetic conditions like cellulite, or medical complaints like blood pressure issues, skin conditions, digestive complaints or stress. “It can be therapeutic for almost any health condition if applied to the right acupuncture points by a trained practitioner,” says Dr. Fan.
While cupping is generally considered very safe, there are certain conditions where cupping should be used with caution, including: patients taking blood thinning medication, or those who have sunburn, a wound, skin ulcer, or recent trauma. Dr. Fan advises: “Cupping should also not be performed on children under age four, and only for five minutes on children up to the age of seven and ten minutes on children from ages seven through fourteen. There are also certain areas, such as the lower abdomen, lower back and certain acupuncture points, that should not be cupped on pregnant women.”
“Cupping is part of our required curriculum for masters degree students in both acupuncture and oriental medicine,” says Dr. Zhanxiang Wang, assistant dean for acupuncture and oriental medicine at National University of Health Sciences. “We teach a science-based curriculum that includes a full-range of traditional therapies that have been used for literally thousands of years – such as cupping. It is great that the effectiveness of oriental medicine is increasingly acknowledged by celebrities and athletes, so that more people will feel encouraged to try this safe and natural form of health care.”
To consult with an oriental medicine clinician to see if cupping would help your health and wellness goals, contact National University’s Whole Health Center in Lombard at 630-629-9664 to make an appointment.