Cupping is an ancient treatment which stimulates specific points on the body by creating a vacuum using a suction cup placed at various points on the body, which leads to an increased flow of blood in the area. The enhanced blood flow under the cup draws impurities and toxins away from the nearby tissues and organs towards the skin’s surface for elimination. How long the suction cups are left in place varies according to the client’s age and physical constitution, and the medical disorder being treated.
Cupping is a therapy in its own right, and it is a safe, non-invasive and inexpensive treatment. It is used to alleviate the pain and discomfort arising from many inflammatory disorders. It strengthens the vital organs and increases immunity, thus encouraging optimum health.
Cupping dates back more than 5000 years and enjoyed widespread use in folk medicine around the world. The ancient art has been practised as early as Ancient Egyptian times, and spread to the Greeks and Romans. The evidence comes from the 19th century discovery of the Ebers Papyrus (dated to c.1550 BC) which is thought to be the oldest medical textbook. It describes cupping in order to remove foreign matter.
In the 5th century BC, Hippocrates (460-377 BC), known as the father of modern medicine, wrote about two forms of cupping: dry and wet (also known as bloodletting). It was during this time that the concept of blood humours developed. It described four fluid substances in the body: blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. Health depended on the proper balance of these humours. Bloodletting through cupping was therefore a method used for adjusting one of the four humours to achieve proper balance. Hippocrates’ followers were known to strongly believe in treating patients with cupping.
In China, cupping has been used since the 3rd century BC. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, cupping therapy is used to stimulate acupuncture points. It promotes the flow of Qi (vital energy) and prevents stagnation in the meridians and organs and described cupping in a handbook of prescriptions for emergencies dating back to 341 AD.
In addition, cupping was commonly used by the indigenous peoples of Africa and the Americas, as well as traditional Asian healers. It reached its zenith during the beginning of the 19th century, but by the end of it, virtually died away as a therapeutic practice due to its malpractice and actually understanding the process and its correct procedure. Although it may be worth nothing that bloodletting (venesection) is still used for treatments such as for polycythaemia (blood thicker), haemochromatosis (raised iron levels), Porphyria Cutanea Tarda (skin lesions that develop due to photosensitivity).
Textual evidence on cupping in Roman civilisation can be found in the works of Roman physician-philosopher, Galen (131-200 AD).
Galen was one of the greatest physicians and surgeons of Ancient Rome, with wide-ranging research and expertise in the fields of anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology and neurology. He was also a practitioner of cupping therapy.
Women have occupied an important role in traditional societies, gaining skill and knowledge in applying a broad range of treatments and remedies. Cross-cultural studies show that women, and in particular female heads of households, represent a major source of therapeutic assistance in many societies.
Women usually performed cupping in Greece, Holland, Russia and Turkey. In 11th century Europe, there were a great many women physicians who were held in high esteem and greatly sought after by patients. However, by the 13th century, universities started to exclude women from study.
Thereafter there was a notable absence of women in traditional medical histories, because their focus concentrated on documenting ‘official medicine’ rather than the ‘popular medicine’ practised by the people. Despite the fact that non-official medicine has been poorly represented, women have been considered to play a major role in healthcare delivery, and possibly have been more important than men in the use of cupping practice.