Cups made of bamboo, iron and pottery are still used by some acupuncturists in China. [Xu Congjun / For China Daily]
With traditional chinese medicine, pain relief is just a cup and a flame away
Marisol Sanchez Fernandez is a young Spaniard who works for a busy graphic design company in Beijing. Recently she noticed that her neck and shoulders were beginning to ache and even to become numb.
"The doctor diagnosed that I was suffering from slight cervical spondylosis (the degeneration of neck joints), and my problem was not solved after I took ... Western medicines," Fernandez says.
A Chinese friend suggested that she try the traditional Chinese therapy of cupping.
"Through undergoing a course of treatment, my symptoms were ... alleviated," Fernandez says.
The treatment includes creating a vacuum by burning a wick inside a jar and quickly placing the jar on the selected area. According to the theory of traditional Chinese medicine, the ensuing vacuum and the effect of suction helps draw out inner toxins, promotes the flow of "qi" and blood and unblocks channels called meridians, easing swelling and reducing pain.
Historical records on cupping date back to the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), when it was called horn therapy. It gradually developed in the Southern and Northern Dynasties (AD 420-581), was a Taoist medical practice and was widely used in the courts of Imperial China. In the Sui Dynasty (AD 581-618) and the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), the cupping implement was improved, and a bamboo jar replaced animal horns. In the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), cupping had become a key treatment in traditional Chinese medicine. The present name was coined in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) when the jar used began to be made of pottery.
These days most acupuncturists use cups made of thick glass or plastic, although bamboo, iron and pottery cups are still used in some places. Glass cups are the preferred method, because they do not break as easily as pottery or deteriorate like bamboo, and they allow doctors to observe the skin and evaluate the effects of treatment.
Jacques Le Bert, a Frenchman who has studied traditional Chinese medicine in China for five years, says cupping is related to what is called the theory of meridians and collaterals, and is seeing increasing popularity in the West.
Meridians and collaterals are said to "connect different parts of the body into an organic whole, including the viscera, limbs, five sensory organs and nine orifices", Jacques says.