The History of Cupping Therapy

history of cupping

History of Cupping Therapy

Cupping Therapy, commonly referred to as Cupping, has been around for thousands of years.  It developed over time from the original use of hollowed out animal horns (the Horn Method) to treat boils and suck out the toxins out of snakebites and skin lesions. Horns slowly evolved into bamboo cups, which were eventually replaced by glass. Therapeutic applications evolved with the refinement of the cup itself, and with the cultures that employed cupping as a health care technique.

The true origin of cupping still remains uncertain to this day.  Some consider the Chinese to be responsible for cupping, however, the earliest pictorial records date back to the ancient Egyptians around 1500 B.C.  Translations of hieroglyphics in the Ebers Papyrus, the oldest medical text book, detail the use of cupping for treating fever, pain, vertigo, menstrual imbalances, weakened appetite and helping to accelerate the healing crisis.

history of cupping

From the Egyptians, cupping was introduced to the ancient Greeks, where Hippocrates, the Father of Modern Medicine and cupping advocate, viewed cupping as a remedy for almost every type of disease.  In fact, other Greek physicians used the strong suction of cupping to restore spinal alignment by reducing dislocated vertebrae from protruding inward.

The earliest recorded use of cupping came from the famous alchemist and herbalist, Ge Hong (281-341 A.D.), who popularized the saying “Acupuncture and cupping, more than half of the ills cured.”

The Chinese expanded the utilization of cupping to include its use in surgery to divert blood flow from the surgery site.  In the 1950’s, after much extensive research, a collaborative effort between the former Soviet Union and China confirmed the clinical efficacy of cupping therapy. Since then, cupping has become a mainstay of government-sponsored hospitals of Traditional Chinese medicine.

Eventually, cupping spread to ancient cultures in many countries of Europe and even the Americas.  Throughout the 18th century, European and American doctors widely used cupping in their practices to treat common colds and chest infections, often in the form of Wet Cupping.  Wet Cupping, also known as Artificial Leeching and Hijamah in Muslim societies, is where the practitioner makes tiny incisions in the skin to dredge the blood or poisons out.

By the late 1800’s, cupping lessened in popularity and was severely criticized and discredited by the newly established scientific model of medicine. The new model defined medicine by making the body transparent, focusing on and treating the inside, in preference to the outside. Since cupping was a surface treatment, it was inconsistent with this new medical paradigm, which had shifted away from hands-on manipulative therapies.

history of cupping

Celebrity Cupping Craze

Decades flew by as cupping therapy gradually became reduced to a mere curiosity of the past, collecting dust on practitioners’ shelves.  In 2004 Cupping re-emerged as a hot new celebrity trend in the limelight of a New York film festival, where actress Gwyneth Paltrow’s back revealed her fresh cupping marks.

Countless celebrities like Jennifer Aniston, Victoria Beckham, Justin Beiber and Kim Kardashian followed suit and became fast adopters of this hot new cupping trend.

World Champion tennis star Serena Williams is a big believer in cupping.

“It feels like a suction. It feels like an octopus, although I don’t know what an octopus feels like,” Williams tried to explain to press. “I think I snapped once a while back. It looks weird, the cupping. Yeah, I always do it, but I just did it for fun, so…

“But, yeah, so it just feels like it’s suctioning and it just feels good.”

Olympic Recovery Modality

history of cupping

In the 2016 Rio Olympics, swimmer Michael Phelps’ multitude of eye-catching purple circles made countless headlines. And no, he was NOT in a bar fight!

And no, he was NOT in a bar fight!

Neither did he fall asleep on his 22 gold medals!

Michael Phelps’ trainers proudly claimed that cupping was a favored recovery modality that helped reduce soreness and sped up the healing of overworked muscles.

Phelps wasn’t the only Olympian that sported cupping marks – US gymnast Alex Naddour and Belarus swimmer Pavel Sankovich have proudly uploaded their cup kisses to social media.

Unfortunately, some of the Hollywood buzz viewed the celeb’s cupping marks as simply bruises and rolled their eyes at its potential benefits.

Cupping Research

Until recently, there was scant published evidence in favor of cupping for pain relief.

In 2012, a handful of studies were conducted that showed cupping therapy helped relieve back, neck, carpal tunnel and knee pain.  Read more about those studies here.

In 2016, Leonid Kalichman, a senior lecturer at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel co-authored a commentary reviewing cupping research in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies.

Dry Cupping is Able to Reduce Musculoskeletal Pain

Kalichman explains in his research that,

“Mechanically, cupping increases blood circulation, whereas physiologically it activates the immune system and stimulates the mechanosensitive fibers, thus leading to a reduction in pain. There is initial scientific evidence that dry cupping is able to reduce musculoskeletal pain. Since cupping is an inexpensive, noninvasive and low-risk (if performed by a trained practitioner) therapeutic modality, we believe that it should be included in the arsenal of musculoskeletal medicine.”

One thing is certain, and that is cupping is a powerful healing modality that can complement many healthcare modalities ranging from spa treatments to medical massage and physical therapy.


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