The ancient healing therapy of cupping has been used to treat various ailments for thousands of years. Prevalent in traditional Chinese, Korean, Tibetan and Unani medicine, the practice involves the application of cups at strategic points of the body to create negative pressure through suction. This practice is widely believed to have a range of physiological and psychological benefits and is often used to promote relaxation, reduce inflammation, improve blood circulation and loosen adhesions and other restrictions in the connective tissue.
When applied to the abdomen, cupping therapy can help to alleviate a variety of digestive issues. The reported benefits of this branch of cupping include relief from constipation, flatulence, nausea and vomiting, along with a variety of other gastrointestinal problems. But what can science tell us about the mechanisms behind these effects?
What is Abdominal Cupping Therapy?
In dry cupping therapy, the practitioner would traditionally apply cups (made of glass, bamboo, earthenware or silicone) to the abdomen before safely heating them with fire, hot water or oil. As the air inside the cup is removed, it forms a vacuum. This creates suction, placing the skin under negative pressure and causing it to rise up inside the cup. Today, there are more choices available for creating this suction without having to use fire. You can now find cups where suction can be created with a pump gun, or be squeezing a bulb or compressing silicone to create suction.
If the aim of the therapy is to address digestive issues, cupping will usually be performed around the naval, stomach, kidneys and bladder. The cups may be left in the same place (site cupping) or moved up and down along problem areas (moving cupping).
How Can Abdominal Cupping Therapy Improve your Digestive Health?
Cupping Therapy Can Relieve Constipation
Constipation is a very common digestive disorder characterized by difficulty passing stools, infrequent stools and abdominal pain and stiffness. In the absence of other medical conditions, constipation is often caused by slow gastrointestinal transit – i.e., food taking a longer-than-usual time to pass through the digestive tract.
Moving cupping is the type of cupping therapy most often used to address constipation. During a moving cupping treatment, the practitioner applies lubrication to the skin and just one cup to the skin over the abdomen and then proceeds to move it up and down along problem areas. In clinical studies, this method of cupping has been found to relieve functional constipation in children and older adults.
As a form of abdominal massage, cupping therapy has the potential to increase large bowel peristalsis and decrease colon transit time. This results in more frequent bowel movements and effective relief from constipation without the need for medical intervention. Regular abdominal cupping can promote healthier bowel movements overall as well as relief from the discomfort and bloating commonly associated with chronic constipation.
Cupping Therapy Can Reduce Abdominal Distention and Bloating
By reducing gastrointestinal transit time, abdominal cupping therapy may also reduce abdominal distention and bloating. This uncomfortable condition is often associated with constipation and, like constipation, is often caused by a lower-than-normal gastrointestinal transit time. Abdominal cupping massage can help to restore a healthy transit time and bowel movements, thereby reducing abdominal bloating.
Cupping Therapy Can Improve Your Overall Gut Health
Yet another benefit of achieving regular bowel movements is that a shorter gastrointestinal transit time is associated with better intestinal health overall. This is because, the longer food takes to pass through the digestive tract, the more harmful substances accumulate as a result. By encouraging large bowel peristalsis, abdominal cupping massage therapy can help to reduce gastrointestinal transit time, therefore helping to improve your overall gut health.
Cupping Therapy Can Reduce or Eliminate Flatulence
Another common digestive issue is flatulence, a condition that causes a build up of gas in the digestive system. Besides frequent passing of gas, flatulence can also cause pain in the stomach and sides, a feeling of abdominal fullness and tightness, and bloating. This uncomfortable (and often embarrassing) condition is incredibly common, affecting approximately 15-30% of Americans. Fortunately, flatulence is one of the conditions abdominal cupping is thought to eliminate flatulence, possibly by encouraging the release of trapped gas.
Cupping Therapy Can Reduce Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea and vomiting are two more highly prevalent digestive issues that may be alleviated by cupping therapy. In one study, cupping therapy performed on pregnant women was found to significantly reduce the frequency of nausea and vomiting in the weeks following treatment. Unlike cupping therapy for constipation, in which cups are applied to the abdomen, cups were applied to the wrists in this study.
The purpose of this was to apply negative pressure to the acupressure point p6, located on the inside of the wrist. Stimulation of this particular acupoint is believed to relieve nausea, and further studies have found this treatment to prevent postoperative nausea and vomiting. Therefore, stimulation of this area by cupping therapy may be an effective natural alternative to antiemetic medications.
Abdominal cupping therapy is a form of abdominal massage that can help to alleviate a wide range of digestive and colon issues. By encouraging large bowel peristalsis and decreasing colon transit time, moving cupping therapy can be an effective way to relieve constipation, flatulence, abdominal discomfort, and abdominal distention and bloating. Abdominal cupping can promote a decreased gastrointestinal transit time and healthier bowel movements overall which can, in turn, improve the general health of your digestive system. When applied to the inside of the wrist, cupping therapy can also be used to stimulate the p6 acupressure point, which studies have found beneficial in reducing and preventing vomiting and nausea both in pregnant women and postoperative patients.
Cupping therapy can, therefore, benefit digestive health via various mechanisms. Moving cupping therapy, when applied to the abdomen, is especially useful for promoting healthy bowel movements and intestinal function.
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