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.

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By SOPHENG CHEANG in Ph­nom Penh As­so­ci­ated Press As­so­ci­ated Press re­porter Sopheng Cheang grew up in Cam­bo­dia and has life­long ex­pe­ri­ence with coin­ing and cup­ping.

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.

PHOTOS BY LAM YIK FEI / GETTY IMAGES

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.

MICHAEL DALDER / FOR CHINA DAILY

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.

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