What Does Cupping Treat?

One of the key ideas of Traditional Chinese Medicine – TCM – is that stagnant blood causes problems. This can include pain, numbness, aching, and stiffness. Classically speaking, TCM attributes the following symptoms to blood stagnation :

  • Worse at night.
  • Sharper pain relative to milder / aching pain.
  • Subborn / persistent.
  • Fixed location.
  • Altered sensation, numbness / tingling / cold. – Just think of how your arm feels in a tourniquet! 

Now, while cupping tends to work on most types of pain, even if the pain is not strictly within that definition, it’s likely that most aches and pains have some blood stagnation associated with them, but it may not be the primary feature of that particular pain. In some cases, the main cause of the pain might be a nerve impingement, inflammation, or some other functional issue, such as a cramp or a spasm.

However, in general, any and all of such problems will tend to improve as circulation improves, so cupping can still be a brilliant supportive therapy for such problems. Not just in terms of getting clean, fresh blood in, but also in terms of getting the venous blood, deoxygenated, and carrying various wastes, efficiently drained out.

The reason cupping tends to work well in many situations that have not responded to or been fully healed by the use of other modalities, is that many other methods do not actually clean the old, stagnant blood out of the affected area.

Imagine that you have a community, just like a community of cells in muscle and joint tissue. If that community could not flush it’s toilets, and never had it’s garbage picked up, how long would it be before that community had problems with it’s health? How long would the community function properly? The answer seems pretty obvious, and so from this perspective we can understand why a group of cells in a particular muscle or joint, might not be healing effectively, if the tissue is saturated with accumulated wastes and old, stagnant blood. If you were to \”vacuum\” such wastes and old blood from inside the tissue, you would expect it to look exactly like a dark bruise, since that is the colouration of old, stagnant, deoxygenated venous blood.

If the stagnation of that blood, was causing the types of problems noted in classical Chinese medical literature, then it would also make sense that cleaning the tissue with cupping would relieve the symptoms as well.

For these reasons, cupping often works brilliantly and decisively in treating stubborn, painful conditions, even if they are old, chronic, and unresponsive to more conventional therapies.

If such problems are looked at from the standpoint that they are at some level, to some degree, the result of blood stagnation, particularly on the venous side of the circulatory system, then helping to drain and clean that old gunk out becomes the obvious strategy to get a problem healing that may have stalled out.

If you are considering cupping as a treatment option, let me encourage you to go for it, as almost all musculoskeletal problems will improve to some degree if clean, fresh circulation is increased, because all the body’s cells and tissues require clean, fresh blood to thrive. Even conditions that cupping might not seem like the obvious choice for, take a pinched nerve for example, can improve dramatically with cupping. Why? Because the pinched nerve may be associated with other localized damage, adhesions, inflammation and swelling, not to mention irritation or damage of the nerve tissue itself.

All of those problems too, will improve with proper irrigation of the tissue with clean, fresh blood, and the ability to reduce and clean away old, stagnant blood.

Some common examples of where cupping can be useful

Joint pain, anything from a sore SI joint to a stiff neck, or even frozen shoulder. For Frozen shoulder, cupping can dramatically speed up the healing and recovery time. For smaller joints, smaller cups can be applied even around the wrists, elbows and ankles, although it can be tricky if such ankles are quite small or bony!

Muscle pain, stiffness. Cupping can be incredibly effective for the treatment of muscle pain and injury, and it’s ability to improve circulation and facilitate tissue cleaning means that it can also be used as a great way to recover faster from work outs, sports, and other forms of hard use such as manual labour. So whether you run a chainsaw or are an avid hockey player, horse person, or pickle-ball champ, cupping can make you effectively better at your job or sport by speeding up your recovery times and treating your aches and pains!

Numbness / tingling. Generally attributed to nerve problems, numbness and tingling often times respond very well to cupping. Consider that the blood vessels and the nerve fibres often follow very similar routes in the body, and that if there is an abnormal pressure on one, there is likely an abnormal pressure on the others as well.

Sciatica is a great example of a common problem that is considered an impingement or pressure affecting the sciatic nerve, and thus producing pain and abnormal sensation, but yet still responds very well to cupping, which is ostensibly a circulatory treatment modality. For a case of sciatica, or for thoracic outlet syndrome, many of the same areas that would be massaged, needled, or otherwise treated can also be cupped, and usually with very good effect. What this tells me is that these problems are not merely the result of some pressure on the nerve, but are a combination of related problems, including muscle tension, blood stagnation, and perhaps even reduced nerve function and health as a result of reduced quality of circulation.

So, if the question is : Does cupping work and should I get it for my particular problem, the answer is almost certainly, yes you should. Definitely check with your practitioner to be sure, but generally, anyone’s health and function can be improved with cupping in some way!

Why Does Cupping Cause Bruising?