Known in some cultures as firecupping, the ancient healing technique of cupping has a long history in the practice of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Sometimes used in conjunction with acupuncture and herbal therapy, this procedure involves the use of a cup that is filled with warm air, and placed open end down on the part of the body that is experiencing distress.
In the philosophy of TCM, cupping is understood to be about the restoring the flow of the life force to a proper and working state. Illness is often associated with some sort of interference to this flow of life energy. The application to the affected part of the body is understood to set in motion natural body responses that will in time help to restore the right ordering the energy and in turn restore health to the individual.
In general, cupping uses a cup that is made of glass, hard wood, or metal. Some type of flammable substance, such as paper, a mixture of herbs, or alcohol is placed in the cup and then lit. As the substance burns down and extinguishes, the cup is inverted and placed at some point along the body that corresponds with the life energy pathways involved. As the air inside the cup cools, it creates a vacuum that pulls the skin upward. The idea is that this action also helps to extract toxins from the body that are the origin of the health ailment. Generally, the cup will be left in place for no more than ten minutes.
Two forms of the technique are uses. Wet cupping involves puncturing the skin before applying the cup. This increases blood flow and is understood to speed up the removal of toxins from the body. Dry cupping is the more common application and omits the use of puncturing the skin. Often, it is used as preparation for a session of acupuncture. The acupuncturist may allow the patient a short time in between the treatment and the administration of the acupuncture needles. Herbalists may also use the technique as a pre-requisite to a regimen of herbal therapy, or as a follow up treatment once the herbs have had time to begin breaking down the toxins that are causing the illness.
Cupping has a great deal of anecdotal evidence that supports its use as a means of dealing with arthritis in the limbs, swelling of joints, and congestion in the throat and lungs. There are also testimonials that claim that the technique has successfully been used to treat depression as well. Generally, it is not used when there is the presence of a tumor or suspicion that a growth may be malignant. Instead, the focus is more on everyday ailments that would not tend to require invasive surgery. However, traditional western medicine has not confirmed that cupping actually leads to any real health benefits. Still, the technique is used in many cultures and has many followers.