The ancient art of "cupping"

Published: Aug. 10, 2016 at 4:20 PM CDT
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A therapeutic technique is leaving it a mark and raising more than just questions around the world.

The ancient practice of cupping is a phenomenon sweeping the nation.

After Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps was spotted, literally, with large red circles across his body, curiosity over the technique and benefits of cupping has people asking, what is it?

Dr. Anaya Palay practices at Calhoun Chiropractic Center and has been an expert in acupuncture and oriental medicine for six years.

“It’s a very noninvasive, comfortable, and easy to access ways of treating that type of tightness,” Dr. Palay said.

With various sizes of suction cups, patients can expect a sucking feeling that lasts about five to 10 minutes.

“Athletes do it to improve performance and function, because their muscles can get so tight, but ordinary people would use it when they have chronic pain in an area. Say from being hunched over a computer for a really long time, years of office work or repetitive motions," Dr. Palay said.

It's not just for athletes. This type of treatment helps loosen muscles and encourages blood flow.

“It moves blood, it moves lymph fluid, the increase in blood flow allows more of the cellular waste products in the muscles to be removed, and that allows the muscles to relax,” Dr. Palay described.

Cupping is not new but dates back thousands of years to ancient practices from various cultures.

“Cupping is a very ancient form of treatment for tight and sore muscles.

Records go back to actually ancient Egyptian time,” Dr. Palay said. "The process is using some mechanism, usually either heat or vacuums, to create suctions on the skin.”

Although there are plenty of skeptics, many believe in the health benefits.

“Western medical physicians are probably not going to recommend cupping. There is not a lot of concrete data that proves it to the standards that they have that prove that it's efficacious. They have very high standards for testing new treatment, new drugs, new protocols. It's very difficult to test cupping based on those standards because you can’t really have a control," Dr. Palay said. “It’s difficult to design a scientific study, so Western medical physicians don’t really have anything to base an opinion on, but they will say it can't possibly hurt you.”

Dr. Palay says it's not for every type of pain and can tell within a few minutes if cupping is the right treatment for her patients.

“If there isn’t blood stasis, then cupping isn’t going to help. And one of the ways that we can tell if there is blood status is if we can see it. So, those characteristic marks that the cups leave, that’s our clue. If it’s leaving marks like that then it's going to help. If it's not leaving marks, then it's not going to help because you don’t have the right type of problem to respond to it,” Dr. Palay points out.

She says a lot of people have concerns of bruising, but they're merely misinformed about the reaction skin has to the treatment.

“Those marks don’t represent a bruise,” she said. "They represent an expansion in the capillary bed. Expansion so great that you can actually see it.”

She says it takes about two to three days for the marks to fade completely.

Introductory sessions with Dr. Palay start at $90 and $40 follow-ups.

Dr. Palay also recommends to always seek a professional if you're interested in testing out this practice.