This week on Mr Science, I’m taking medical science into my own hands and giving Vacuum Cupping a road test. Vacuum Cupping is a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine and is a way of applying acupressure to the skin. A vacuum is created next to the surface of the skin in a plastic or glass cup, which is held to the skin by the vacuum. Sometimes this is called Fire cupping as a fire will often be lit next to or inside the cup, which causes the air inside the cup to heat up. The cup is then placed upon the skin, where as it cools, the air inside contracts, and causes the cup to stick to the skin. In the version of Vacuum Cupping that I had, modern technology had caught up with Traditional Chinese Medicine, and the air was simply extracted from the cup with a pump.
Cupping is used in the treatment of respiratory diseases such as the common cold, pneumonia, and bronchitis. Cupping is also used to treat back, neck and shoulder pain – I used it in the hope that it could treat my ongoing shoulder and neck distress. This technique, in varying forms, has also been found in the traditional medicine of Vietnam, the Balkans and Greece. Suction cups placed at various acupuncture points on the body create a vacuum that apparently draws toxins and fluids to the surface of the skin and brings about relief by rebalancing yin, yang and qi. It is claimed that is also loosens adhesions and lifts connective tissue, and brings blood flow to stagnant muscles and skin.
There is no scientific consensus over whether such methods work beyond the effects of a placebo, so I thought I would try it out for myself. Acupressure has been show to work in reducing nausea – this can be achieved through the use of an acupressure wristband. Massage has also been shown to provide some long-term benefit for lower back pain. If it’s good enough for Gwyneth Paltrow and the Australian swimming team, then it’s good enough for me.
The experience was an interesting one. The massages before and after the cupping were excellent, and certainly made me feel relaxed. Indeed, I fell asleep. However, the cupping process itself was a little odd. My skin felt quite tingly as it was sucked into the cup, and now two days on, is quite bruised. Around 12 cups were placed on my back, from my lower back, up to my neck. After the cupping was complete, I had 12 red circular marks on my back, with the two lower one’s being quite dark red. This, I was told by the lady who ran the clinic, was because I had some lower back issues – and I did feel better after the process was complete, but I do not know whether it was due to the massage or the cupping. The lower back cups were also placed quite close to the liver, which I had given a fair working out at a party the night before, and this may explain why that part of me was a little tender.
Most of the marks are fading, except for the two highest ones on my neck. This has prompted people to think that I have some strange hickies. It is perhaps not surprising that they have not faded as my neck has given me many problems over the last 6 months – perhaps the blood flow to that region is not very good and so it is not clearing up as quickly as other sections of my back – but this is just my speculation, and I’m not a medical scientist.
So it would seem that the jury is still out on Vacuum Cupping. I would encourage everyone to try it out and form their own opinions – that’s what science is about, lots of people conducting the experiment in many different ways. I found it a very relaxing, yet intriguing, experience. Recent studies have found that acupressure can help reduce nausea, and pressure points on the head can be massaged to reduce headache. Some of these studies suggest that applying pressure to certain points on the body causes the brain to release endorphins, small proteins that act as a natural painkiller. For me, I really enjoyed the massage and might give it another go when the bruises fade.
Listen to this show here