Cupping within the framework of Japanese Needling is a type of therapeutic method that uses vacuum to obtain it's therapeutic results. In this article I will introduce the basic concepts.
In my practice, I use cupping within a context of a Japanese needling session. It is a tool used to obtain a specific type of acupoint* or greater tissue stimulation. It opens, tonifies and strengthens qi and can also be used very effectively to disperse stagnant qi and blood alleviating stiff muscles.
Cupping is a process that uses a small vessel (a cup) that is applied externally to skin and where a vacuum is created. The vacuum draws the skin and deeper tissues into the vessel and there by imparts a gentle pulling action on the underlying tissues. The result is that tissues open up and blood, lymph and qi is able to flow more freely in and waste products out of them. In a way it is the opposite to a massage where the tissues are pressed down up on. Different vacuum levels and application durations achieve various dosages and have specific effects.
In Chinese medicine, the cups used, are simple vessels with only one opening. They are referred to as Fire Cups because a small burning alcohol swab is briefly introduced into a cold cup prior to it being placed quickly onto the skin. The air is momentarily warmed by the flame an then as the entrance is sealed it rapidly cools causing a vacuum providing the therapeutic effect. If the vacuum is not sufficient or the placement not ideal the skin seal has to be broken and the flame reintroduced. Once the cup warms up another cold cup has to be used as the vacuum potential is diminished.
In contrast the Japanese methods make use of cups with two openings. These are my Korean Cups. As you can see they have a valve on one end and an open mouth on the other. The cups are placed on the skin with the wide opening and a small hand pump is attached to the valve through which, air is drawn out.
The result is far more controlable and thus predictable, a quality that is important in a treatment situation.
In addition to being more controllable they need not be cold at the start which makes the process more comfortable for you.
Other techniques make use of a "retained needle", where an acupuncture needle is placed first followed by the cup.
There are many many more techniques and variations that are used but this gives you an introduction to the most common of them. I at times make use of them in massage treatments too. Cupping is typically relaxing, releasing and rarely painful.
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* Acupoint is an alternative term for Acupressure or Acupuncture point. It is not a trigger point.