Tortoise Clinic

05 January 2017

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Chinese Cupping

Ancient Chinese Cupping

The art of cupping is an ancient one. The technique has been used by healers from cultures as diverse as Africa, Europe and of course Asia.

The Ebers Papyrus, one of the oldest medical textbooks in the world, describes the systematic use of cupping by the early Egyptians, as far back as 1,550 B.C. The famous Taoist alchemist and herbalist, Ge Hong (281-341 A.D.), described this method in his book A Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies. The cups were actually animal horns, used for draining pustules.

Cupping is about using suction to pull toxin build-up and muscle spasm from the body’s deeper tissues up to the surface of the skin where the situation can be rectified. Our cells use oxygen and give off carbon dioxide, when our energy is blocked for whatever reason (trauma, lifestyle etc.) the resulting stagnation will cause dis-ease and pain.

Generally, the cup is left in place for about 10 minutes (typical range is 5-15 minutes). The skin becomes reddened due to the congestion of blood flow. The cup is removed by pressing the skin alongside it to allow some outside air to leak into it, thus equalizing the pressure and releasing it. Some bruising along the site of the rim of the cup is expected.

There is a very old adage in Chinese Medicine that states, “where there is movement there is life, where there is stagnation there is death.” Cupping at its core is a stagnation removing therapy. Those “knots” in the shoulder/neck region for example have to do with stagnant blood in Chinese Medical physiology. When cupping is applied to an area a couple of important things take place simultaneously.

First, cupping will tell us exactly where the problem is. We know this to be true because the skin under the cup in a problem area will discolor much like a bruise (it is not however a bruise) and in an area that is not as stagnant/painful will not color nearly as much.

Second, it will tell us the nature of the problem. A muscle issue will color much more intensely. A bone or nerve problem will not look even remotely similar after therapy is applied.

Third, cupping will shed light on the degree of severity. A modest issue in the tissue will look a slight shade of pink or red and will disappear in a day or two while a severe blockage in the blood flow of the body will turn a deep scarlet or even black and will take a week or two to rejoin the general circulation of the body. The information gathered during a cupping session is both helpful in treating the patient and in making the proper diagnosis.

Cupping is an extraordinary technique and its effects are immediate. It is possible to take weeks or even months off the treatment duration through cupping. It touches the body at deep level and is a treatment that has been revered for centuries. Today, cupping is mainly recommended for the treatment of pain, gastro-intestinal disorders, lung diseases (especially chronic cough and asthma), and paralysis, though it can be used for other disorders as well. The areas of the body that are fleshy are preferred sites for cupping.

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