My naturopathic physician has been trained in some of the more nontraditional Chinese medicine techniques for chronic musculoskeletal pain. He wants to try something on me called cupping. But it involves making cuts on my back and sucking the blood out with suction cups. Is this for real? Is it dangerous?
Cupping is not well-known or used that often in the United States. People in China, India, Arabia, Central Europe, and parts of Africa may be more familiar with it. Cupping is a treatment used in folk medicine to improve circulation to a specific area of the body.
Suction cup type of glasses are applied to the skin to create suction of the underlying skin and soft tissue. The technique can be done dry or wet. Dry cupping is just as described here. Wet cupping adds an additional step of making tiny cuts in the skin that bleed. When the cups are partially filled with blood, they are removed (usually after five to 10 minutes). This is actually a form of the old treatment called blood letting.
The cuts should be made using a microlancet to make tiny puncture wounds. A microlancet is the tool used to stick your finger when taking a blood sample. The lancets are sterile. So are the suction cups that get applied to the skin. Unless the patient has difficulty forming immediate blood clots, the areas stop bleeding as soon as the cups are removed. Each site can be covered with a small bandage for 24 hours.
If applied in this manner with sterile technique by someone who has been trained, the treatment should be both safe and effective.
Andreas Michalsen, et al. Effects of Traditional Cupping Therapy in Patients with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A Randomized Controlled Trial. In The Journal of Pain. June 2009. Vol. 10. No. 6. Pp. 601-608.
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