The ancient art of applying suction cups to the body has gotten a boost from several new studies that show it helps relieve a variety of painful conditions.
from the Wall Street Journal:
Cupping, as the practice is called, was performed traditionally in China and other countries, and is now available from acupuncturists, and some chiropractors and massage therapists in the U.S. In the traditional method, called fire cupping, a ball of burning cotton is briefly placed inside a glass cup to heat the air inside, which then creates a partial vacuum as it cools. Newer-style plastic or silicone cups have valves that attach to hand pumps used to create suction.
Until recently, there was scant published evidence in favor of cupping for pain relief. Over the past three years, a handful of new studies have shown it helps relieve back, neck, carpal tunnel and knee pain.
There are a number of theories on how cupping may work to relieve pain. A widely held one is that suction on the skin "increases blood flow to the area and creates a mild immune response," says Kathleen Lumiere, an assistant professor of acupuncture and oriental medicine at Bastyr University in Kenmore, Wash. It also helps release fascia, connective tissue that can pull on muscles causing pain or limited motion, clinicians say.
Typically cups are on for up to 20 minutes and leave a temporary reddish mark that looks "like rare roast beef," says Brian K. Nathanson, a Norwalk, Conn., chiropractor who has been doing cupping for about five years.
Some clinicians slide the cups on the body, using them as massage tools in a technique sometimes called running cupping. "People who love deep-tissue massage love cupping," says Gabrielle Francis, a Manhattan chiropractor and acupuncturist who does both static cupping and running cupping. Both can cause mild discomfort in some patients, clinicians say.
In a study of people with neck pain caused by computer use, "cupping therapy was effective in reducing pain," says Tae-Hun Kim, a researcher at the Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine in Daejeon, South Korea. The 40-person study, published online in September in the Journal of Occupational Health, found that six cupping sessions over two weeks was more effective on average in relieving pain than a heating pad—and the benefit lasted a month after treatment ended.