Cupping and Chronic Neck Pain

Cupping is a therapy which has been practiced for thousands of years. Unfortunately, not many people knew about cupping or its benefits until Michael Phelps sported purple circles in the 2016 Olympics and propelled the popularity of cupping tenfold. People assumed that if a gold medalist was using cupping before his competitions, that cupping might be beneficial for them as well. 

What exactly is cupping? The World Health Organization defines cupping as a therapeutic method involving the application of suction by creating a vacuum that is typically done using a cup or jar on the dermis of the affected part of the body. The cup suctions the skin up, causing vasodilation of the blood vessels and increased blood flow to the area. Some of the therapeutic functions and conditions treated with cupping include:

  • alleviating pain (especially chronic neck, shoulder and low back pain)
  • accelerating healing
  • increasing blood circulation
  • promoting the flow of qi
  • fibromyalgia
  • headaches

Today, we are going to focus on a study that demonstrated how cupping significantly deceased chronic neck pain. In order to be included in this study, the participants had to work 40 hours a week, have neck pain for 3 consecutive months and rate their pain at 3 or higher on a scale of 0-10. 

Fire cupping was used on the subjects (fire cupping is when a cotton ball is dipped in alcohol and then lit on fire. The fire is placed in the cup in order to create a pressure change to allow suction of the skin once the cup is placed on the dermis). The cups were placed on 3 acupuncture points bilaterally that are known to help decrease headaches, neck, shoulder and back pain. The cups were left on for 10 minutes. After only 10 minutes, drastic improvements were reported. The results of the study:

  • The participants pain level dropped from a 9.7 to a 3.6 (that's an incredible decrease especially for such a short amount of time)
  • Each participant felt an increased sensation of warmth to the skin as a result of the vasodilation
  • Skin surface temperature increased by 1-2 degrees at each point when measured 10 minutes after the cups were removed

The authors concluded that the findings from this study strongly suggest that cupping therapy is effective for relieving pain, with no adverse effects. Cupping therapy has the potential to eliminate reliance on analgesics and reduce health care costs (Lee-Mei Chi, et al. 2016).

If neck pain is something that you deal with on a daily basis, cupping therapy can be done alone or in conjunction with chiropractic and acupuncture to help you achieve the pain relief you desire!