Cupping is a traditional Chinese medicine modality. Practiced for centuries, it has again come into the forefront in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio where millions of people saw the dark circular marks on the back and torso of swimmer Michael Phelps as well as other athletes.
In cupping, suction is created over the skin (see image left). This suction can be created by a manual suction device or by heating the air inside the cup. Cupping is believed to open blocked meridians (energy pathways) and balance the qi (translated as “energy flow” and pronounced “chee”). It is believed to stimulate healing for a variety of conditions including respiratory disease, abdominal complains and pain. There are various sized cups.
During your physical exam of a patient you may find the circular marks left by this procedure on the torso and other fleshy areas of the body. Providers have mistaken these for abuse or burns. You may also see red or dark marks in a long symmetrical pattern from a technique called guasha (sometimes called spooning or coining) in which a round-edged instrument is used in repetitive strokes over a portion of the body.
Previously seen predominantly in Asian populations, the appearance of cupping at the Olympics is sure to bring modern attention to this ancient technique. Discussion has been vigorous as to the validity of the therapy with traditional medicine declaring cupping and related modalities “pseudoscience.”
For more information on cupping and guasha: