Cupping old school
Ancient Asian medical treatment is having an Olympic moment In ancient times, cupping was used to get rid of blood and pus when treating skin abscess, but it has been expanded to treat tuberculosis and rheumatism.
Cupping and a similar treatment known as coining have been practiced in East Asia for centuries, long before swimmer Michael Phelps sported the blotches.
Isported those purple round welts onmy body long before Michael Phelps was born. OK, so Phelps made the world aware of cupping by showing his marked muscular shoulders before diving into the pool at the Rio games.
But cupping, and a similar treatment known as coining, has been practiced in East Asia for centuries. I grewup with them. My mother made sure of that.
Phelps, the 31-year-old US swimming star, was seen with purple circles dotting his shoulder and back before his first race at the Olympics. The circles were caused by the ancient Chinese treatment, in which he is a great believer.
It involves pressing glass or plastic cups to the area of discomfort and either applying heat or suction to create a vacuum. The suction causes the large hickey-like marks.
Another similar treatment is coining. The principle is the same: press a large metal disc with an attached handle on the area of discomfort. While cupping is virtually unknown in the rest of the world— and dismissed by doctors educated inWestern medicine as hocus pocus— it is commonplace in China, Cambodia, Vietnam andMyanmar as a cure for ailments as varied as fever, tuberculosis, rheumatism and muscular pain.
I remember, some 40 years ago (I am 46), when I fell sick, my mother always did coining on me. She would rub coconut oil onmy skin and then push the coin all over, leaving rows of welts. It scared me. I would cry and sometimes run away. Butmy mother would say: “Be patient! It will take only a few minutes to complete and it will hurt just a little bit, like an ant bite.”
So I would let her, and it usually helped.
Inmy generation, most people did coining when they had fever includingmy relatives, siblings and neighbor. Cupping became popular later.
Nowwhen I have a fever, flu, headache or other problems I go to a neighborhood “cupping spa” and get both done. Not that I don’t trust medicines. But I also believe in cupping and coining. Got it done just last month formy fever, which wasn’t coming down with medicines and injections. One session of cupping and the fever was gone.
The procedure was done in a well-illuminated room with one small bed and a wall fan. I took off my shirt and lay down onmy stomach so the practitioner could work onmy back, first by rubbing oil and then using the coin. After 15 minutes or so, she told me to turn over and so she could work onmy chest. The same procedure was followed with cups as I dozed off.
But there’s a rule to coining and cupping— no alcohol or bath for three hours before and five hours after the treatment.
It is popular in the countryside because it is cheap and most Cambodians are poor, and not every village has hospitals or clinics. Ironic, since health spas in the US charge a fewhundred dollars for the service. Here we pay the equivalent of $3 for an hourlong session.
Even PrimeMinisterHun Sen has touted the benefits of coining and cupping. He has told journalists that his wife Bun Rany does it on him when he is sick.
In ancient times, cupping was used to get rid of blood and pus when treating skin abscess, but it has been expanded to treat tuberculosis and rheumatism. Because cupping was widely used in Chinese folklore culture, the technique was inherited by modern Chinese practitioners. It is established as an official therapeutic practice in hospitals all over China.
The US National Institutes of Health says on its website that cupping “is considered generally safe for healthy people when performed by a trained health professional.” While saying the placebo effectmay account for some claimed health benefits, it also cites recent research that found it may be an effective short-term treatment for chronic neck and lower-back pain.
I ran into Sok Pheakdkey, a 39-year-old driver at a local construction company, at a cupping clinic where he had undergone treatment for fever.
“Now I feel I amfully recovered. Do you see the sweat coming from my head and back? That means the fever is gone,” he says. He says the medicines he bought from a pharmacy brought his fever down, but only for a while.
“I don’t mean to say that I don’t trust medicines. But inmy experience the best way to treat these illnesses is coining and cupping. My body seems to be addicted to this type of treatment even though it hurts,” he says.
The CambodianHealthMinistry does not advocate cupping, and warns that it could be a health risk.
HealthMinistry spokesman Ly Sovann told me that the practice is not known to cure any illnesses, and in fact can be dangerous for people with high blood pressure or heart problems. Still, the practice is not banned in the country because it is almost away of life for Cambodians, he says.
“My advice is that Cambodia people should start changing their habit. They should consult physicians or doctors first if their illness is something related to high blood pressure and heart attack. Then after they talk with the doctor, of course they can do coining or cupping if they prefer,” he says.
The Chinese treatment, also known as baguan, utilizes heated glass cups to create a suction on the patient’s skin, causing a circular mark that looks like bruising on the skin.
US swimmer Michael Phelps has appeared at the Rio Olympics with purple circles dotting his back and shoulder — the telltale mottling left by the ancient Chinese treatment of cupping.