Though cupping, a form of acupuncture, has become something of a fad in Hollywood, it is only slowly catching on among the general public in the West. The aversion is understandable: Cupping involves the suctioning of flesh using warm cups that typically have been heated using a flaming stick. The heat inside the cup creates a vacuum that pulls the skin up a good inch or so in an effort to stimulate circulation, draw out toxins and stimulate the lymphatic system. The procedure is generally done on the back but can also be performed on the neck, legs and hips.
Some clinics opt for plastic cups, and some use oil to move the hot cups up and down the skin. There’s also “wet cupping,” or bleeding, in which a needle is inserted into the flesh before a cup is used to suction out blood from the spot that was pricked.
A dozen or more cups can be used, and the patient rests between five and 20 minutes while the skin inside the cups reddens. The redder the skin, the more proof that harmful toxins needed to be released, say practitioners. The marks disappear in a few days.
An alternative to needles
Cupping is a relatively benign process, although a singer in Taiwan was reportedly burned last year when a therapist accidentally spilled alcohol on his body and the alcohol was ignited by a flaming stick intended to warm a cup.
In the United States, there is no requirement for licensing of cupping therapists, and cupping products are available on Amazon.com. In Asia, patients use it both as a home remedy and as part of traditional Chinese medicine treatment in clinics. In the United States, an hour-long session with a therapist costs about $55, according to Jesse Mac-
Lean, director of education for the International Cupping Therapy Association, which is based outside Seattle. (A traditional acupuncture session generally ranges from $70 to $120.)
Lixing Lao, director of the Traditional Chinese Medicine Research Program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Center for Integrative Medicine in Baltimore, said that once his patients learn about cupping, they prefer it to the needles of traditional acupuncture. MacLean said that while it’s difficult to track cupping’s popularity in the United States, her group has seen a “sizable increase in the last few years” of inquiries from both health-care practitioners and consumers wanting to learn more about the procedure.