How does cupping therapy work? Is it effective?
February 15, 2015 3:21 PM   Subscribe

I'm interested in the theories of how cupping therapy might work using western science type explanations. A local increase in blood flow? The gate control theory of pain? Also, has anyone found it effective for chronically tense muscles? I realize the long-term solution is to change the way I recruit my muscles so that the affected ones are no longer "locked up." However, I'm wondering if cupping could give me a jump-start in the short term.
posted by ticketmaster10 to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Is it effective?
I'm interested in the theories of how cupping therapy might work using western science type explanations.

Using Western science type explanations, cupping is not effective.

A general rule of thumb is that if a form of "alternative medicine" was beneficial and cost-effective, it would not be "alternative medicine", it'd be actual medicine.
posted by saeculorum at 3:24 PM on February 15, 2015 [17 favorites]

From the western perspective it's going to fall under the placebo effect (not a bad thing, necessarily, and this is one of many articles I could have linked on the topic).

As a side not the gate control theory of pain is out of date, the current best model is the neuromatrix model of pain. Both models were described by the same person.
posted by MillMan at 4:03 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Cupping is a pretty routine thing in my culture. I've done it several times, and I can't say it ever did anything more for me than give me ugly bruises.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:39 PM on February 15, 2015

I've done it a few times, for novelty. There's no demonstrable benefit, but it hovers somewhere between "enjoyably to try" and "hurts more than you expected." More toward the "hurts" end of the spectrum.
posted by maxsparber at 4:47 PM on February 15, 2015

I had it done for a back injury where my muscles seemed to be inflamed in the general area of the injury. It felt about like having a massage; it improved my tension over the rest of the day but no long-term benefits.
posted by mchorn at 4:52 PM on February 15, 2015

I get cupping for knots in my back and here is my 'western' explanation of why it works for me. I get these terrible knots in my back that are *really* hard to get out and access. Cupping sucks the skin and muscle away from the bones where the knots form into tight little rocks. It pulls the muscles in a way that my massage therapist can not (away from my body) and holds it there for an extended period of time. I find that this pulling of muscles apart through massage and cupping helps get the knots out. I recommend it in conjunction with other efforts like massage and physical therapy.
posted by Toddles at 8:25 PM on February 15, 2015

I had this through my physical therapist...this was through a Western-style practice as part of my HMO, so to be honest at the time I did not even realize it was considered 'alternative' medicine! It's hard for me to separate out the benefit of the cupping versus the other phyiscal therapy treatments I received, of course, since I was doing them all at once. But, overall I definitely found the physical therapy treatments helpful in reducing chronic back pain, so I definitely think it can be part of am effective Western-style set of therapies.
posted by rainbowbrite at 6:48 AM on February 16, 2015

There are different kinds of cupping. A massage therapist used flexible clear (silicone?) cups on me during a massage, sliding them around my back. I think that is more Western. There's also another kind done as part of Traditional Chinese Medicine but they are, AFAIK and per the massage therapist, totally different.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:33 AM on February 16, 2015

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