Cup­ping: Help or Hype?

We spoke to Tra­di­tional Chi­nese Medicine (TCM) ex­perts and West­ern med­i­cal doc­tors to find out if those large cir­cu­lar cups live up to the hype.

CLEO (Singapore) - - ON SELF-CARE -

What do Michael Phelps, Jen­nifer Anis­ton and Gwyneth Pal­trow have in com­mon?

They’re all big fans of cup­ping, an an­cient Chi­nese ther­apy that in­volves ap­ply­ing suc­tion on cer­tain parts of the body us­ing glass or plas­tic cups. The vac­uum ef­fect causes small blood ves­sels to break, leav­ing cir­cu­lar bruise­like marks. TCM ex­perts claim th­ese are signs of tox­ins be­ing pulled to the sur­face.

What does it do?

Dr Sim Beng Joo, Con­sul­tant Physi­cian and Ad­vi­sor (Science & Strat­egy) of PULSE TCM clinic, says cup­ping pro­motes deep tis­sue stim­u­la­tion through the com­pres­sion and suc­tion of the tis­sues. De­pend­ing on your ail­ments, your TCM physi­cian may use any one or a com­bi­na­tion of cup­ping tech­niques to treat you. This in­cludes glided cup­ping, where the cup is moved along spe­cific mus­cle fi­bres; flash cup­ping, where the cup is re­peat­edly at­tached then re­moved; and wet cup­ping, where tiny in­ci­sions are made to the skin be­fore the cup is placed on top.

Dr Sim says that cup­ping ther­apy is just one part of a multi-ther­apy ap­proach that prac­ti­tion­ers use to treat var­i­ous dis­ease and con­di­tions. “When done in this way, [cup­ping] is highly ef­fec­tive in ad­dress­ing pain, sleep [is­sues], blood cir­cu­la­tion and skin con­di­tions.”

West­ern doc­tors weigh in

Scep­tics of cup­ping credit its al­leged ben­e­fits to the placebo ef­fect, but the truth is, there aren’t many rig­or­ous sci­en­tific stud­ies on the topic so the jury’s still out.

In any case, Dr Tan Tee Yong, a con­sul­tant anaes­the­si­ol­o­gist at Surgi-TEN Spe­cial­ists in Far­rer Park Hos­pi­tal as well as an acupunc­tur­ist, urges pa­tients not to ex­clu­sively rely on TCM when treat­ing ail­ments. “It can be dan­ger­ous if some­one who has a se­ri­ous med­i­cal prob­lem [re­fuses] ap­pro­pri­ate med­i­cal treat­ment and only re­lies on cup­ping, as it can de­lay the ap­pro­pri­ate man­age­ment [of the ill­ness]”.

Dr Tyler Lim, vis­it­ing doc­tor at Mount Alver­nia Emer­gency depart­ment and med­i­cal direc­tor at the Iron Suites Med­i­cal Cen­tre, has seen pa­tients with chronic con­di­tions such as mus­cu­lar and skele­tal dis­or­ders im­prove with cup­ping, but he’s also had pa­tients who suf­fered burn wounds and per­sis­tent bleed­ing as a re­sult of the treat­ment.

Not just for old folks

You may as­so­ciate TCM clin­ics with your grand­par­ents, or think that the treat­ment only ben­e­fits the el­derly, but Dr Sim says cup­ping can ad­dress is­sues faced by younger women, such as men­strual cramps and acne. “Cup­ping can also en­hance your me­tab­o­lism, aid­ing weight man­age­ment,” she adds.

Cup­ping is gen­er­ally safe if prop­erly ad­min­is­tered and if it’s good enough for Michael Phelps, an Olympian with 23 gold medals, it might be worth a shot!

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