The Lost Tradition of Cupping Grandmothers

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This past week while applying cups to a patient to help strengthen his spleen he commented that his grandmother would always do cupping on him when he got sick.   On asking where he grew up he commented, “Russia.”  His comment was not surprising as over the years I have had patients from  a variety of countries ranging from  Columbia, Mexico, Italy, Egypt, Taiwan and Iran relate to me how their grandmothers would use cups on them to help them recover quickly from a cold.

The history of cupping goes back as early as 3000 B.C.  The Ebers Papyrus, one of the oldest medical textbooks, describes its use.   The Chinese began incorporating it into their system of medicine as early as 1,000 B.C.   This method of treatment has since spread throughout Asia, Europe and the Americas.

Grandmothers used cupping to treat respiratory diseases such as the common cold, bronchitis and pneumonia.  By applying heat inside the glass cup they create a vacuum on the skin.  The Chinese feel that this vacuum draws blood up to the surface of the skin thus dispelling   stagnation of the blood and lymph and improving the flow of qi.

In my training in Chinese medicine I have found it beneficial in augmenting the action of the acupuncture needles.  It is unfortunate that this ancestral way of treating colds has not continued to be passed down.

Terry Pfau DO, HMD

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