'Cupping' therapy used on patients in the Lowcountry

'Cupping' therapy used on patients in the Lowcountry
Glass cups create a suction on the back to help relieve tension in muscles (Source: Live 5)
Glass cups create a suction on the back to help relieve tension in muscles (Source: Live 5)
Dark spots are the result of the cupping therapy (Source: Live 5)
Dark spots are the result of the cupping therapy (Source: Live 5)

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The alternative form of therapy that's gaining worldwide attention because of its use on Olympic athletes is being used at therapy businesses in the Lowcountry.

Cupping is a Chinese medicine therapy which incorporates the use of heated glass cups that create a suction when placed on the body.

U.S. athletes like Michael Phelps, Alex Naddour, and Natalie Coughlin have been seen undergoing this form of therapy.

At Blue Heron Acupuncture and Apothecary licensed professionals have been using the technique for years.

"Cupping has a very long and broad history," said co-owner Lisa Abernathy. "[It's] definitely something we use in Chinese medicine. We use it every day here."

Abernathy said roughly 50% of her patients use the cupping therapy.

The cups can be made out of different materials including plastic and glass. The ways to start the process can also vary. Abernathy uses cotton balls, rubbing alcohol, and fire to get the therapy started, but the end result is almost always the same… a round spot.

"I love it! It makes a great conversation piece, it looks like an octopus got you," she said.

The therapy itself works a lot like a massage, but instead of pressing on the tissue and muscles, it lightly pulls the tissue and fascia into the cup.

"I haven't been cupped in a while so I would expect these spots to last longer than normal," said Tom Knaust, who has been cupped for five years. "So maybe a week, week and a half."

The pigmentation of the spot can also vary per person.

"It depends on the quality of their blood," Abernathy said. "If someone is anemic and has poor circulation to an area, the spots may last longer. Usually it will start to disappear in a couple days. If someone has more stagnation, because that's what we're seeing in that color is the stagnation in the muscles, that equates to tightness or tension. The more there is the darker the color is."

The best analogy to describe the feeling of being cupped is like taking a vacuum hose and sticking it to your skin.

"We then often move the cups along the body, along acupuncture channels, or along the muscle planes to help release tension and increase circulation to the area, which helps really well to relieve pain, stress and tightness," Abernathy said.

A majority of the therapy is done on shoulders and the back, however it can be done elsewhere on the body including your neck and chest.

"We can put cups on the chest to open up there, and it's also great for the lungs and respiratory issues," Abernathy said. "We'll sometimes do some light cupping on someone's arm or leg if someone is having pain there. It really all depends on what the patient is presenting with."

While it's not a new kind of treatment, the talk around it appears to be bringing it mainstream.

"It's extremely non-invasive," Knaust said. "So it's an excellent complimentary medicine to Western medicines."

"I think it is a great thing to talk about when you've had cupping done," Abernathy added. "It's fun to see people asking questions about it, or it being in the news."

Other forms of therapy can be done with cupping including acupuncture, massage, and electronic stimulation.

It can cost anywhere from $40 - $100 depending on the treatment.

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