Cupping Therapy for Neck Pain: A Holistic Approach to Relief
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Neck pain is a common ailment that affects millions of people worldwide. It is the second most common condition leading to disabled lifestyle(1). Whether it’s caused by poor posture, muscle tension, stress, or underlying medical conditions, finding effective ways to alleviate neck pain is a top priority for many. While conventional treatments like pain medications and physical therapy are widely used, alternative therapies are gaining popularity due to great effectiveness and minimal side effects. One such therapy is cupping. Cupping therapy is an ancient practice that has been used for centuries in various cultures, from traditional Chinese medicine to Egyptian traditions. In recent years, it has garnered attention as a potential remedy for neck pain and other musculoskeletal issues. In this article, we’ll explore what cupping therapy is, how it works, and its potential benefits for neck pain relief.
Understanding Cupping Therapy
Cupping therapy involves placing cups on the skin’s surface to create suction, which draws the skin and underlying tissue into the cup. This suction effect is typically achieved using either heat or mechanical devices, and it results in localized congestion of blood flow in the treated area. It further enhances haemoglobin and deep oxygen levels in the treated area (2) which helps in the natural healing and repair of the affected tissues. Cupping therapy alleviates pain using the following mechanisms:
1. Blood Flow:
The suction created by cupping stimulates blood circulation in the treated area. This increased blood flow can help reduce muscle tension and promote the healing of injured tissues.
2. Muscle Relaxation:
Cupping therapy can help relax tight muscles and release muscle knots, which are common contributors to neck pain.
3. Release of Toxins:
Advocates of cupping suggest that it can help release toxins from the body through the skin. While this claim is debated, some people report feeling a sense of relief and detoxification after cupping sessions.
4. Pain Reduction:
Cupping may trigger the release of endorphins, which are natural painkillers. This can lead to a reduction in pain perception.
Cupping Therapy: What to Expect
If you’re considering cupping therapy for neck pain relief, it’s essential to understand what to expect during a typical session:
Before the cupping session, you’ll likely have a consultation with a qualified practitioner. They will assess your condition, discuss your medical history, and determine the best approach for your treatment.
2. Cup Placement:
During the session, the practitioner will place the cups on specific points on your neck and upper back. These are usually placed over the most painful spot also known as a trigger point or over the targeted muscle group such as trapezius rhomboid, supraspinatus (3) The cups may remain stationary or be gently moved around to target different areas.
As the cups create suction, you may feel a pulling or stretching sensation on your skin. This is normal and shouldn’t be painful.
Cupping sessions typically last for 10-20 minutes , but this can vary depending on your individual needs and the practitioner’s recommendations.
After the cups are removed, you may have temporary marks or bruising on your skin. These marks usually fade within a few days. It’s essential to follow any aftercare instructions provided by the practitioner.
What does the evidence say?
Here are some key findings and studies that shed light on the effectiveness of cupping therapy for neck pain:
1. A Randomized Controlled Trial (2020):
A study published in the journal “Pain Research and Management” in 2020 investigated the effects of cupping therapy on chronic neck pain. This randomized controlled trial involved 72 participants with chronic neck pain. The study found that cupping therapy, when combined with other complementary treatments such as acupuncture and exercises, significantly reduced neck pain and improved neck function in the participants.(4)
2. A Review of Clinical Trials (2016):
A systematic review published in the journal “Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine” in 2016 summarized findings from several clinical trials on cupping therapy’s effects on musculoskeletal pain, including neck pain. The review noted that cupping therapy appeared to be effective in reducing pain associated with musculoskeletal conditions, though it emphasized the need for more high-quality studies.(5)
Potential Benefits of Cupping for Neck Pain
1. Pain Relief:
Many individuals who have undergone cupping therapy report experiencing significant pain relief in their neck and shoulders. This relief can be especially beneficial for those with chronic neck pain.
2. Improved Range of Motion:
Cupping therapy’s muscle relaxation and improved blood flow can lead to an increased range of motion in the neck and shoulders, making it easier to move without discomfort.
3. Reduction: Cupping
sessions are often accompanied by a soothing and calming effect. This can help reduce stress and tension, which are common contributors to neck pain.
4. Enhanced Healing:
By increasing blood circulation and promoting the body’s natural healing processes, cupping therapy may expedite recovery from neck injuries or strain. 5.Complementary Therapy: Cupping can be used in conjunction with other treatments, such as physical therapy or chiropractic care, to enhance their effectiveness in managing neck pain
Cautions and Considerations
While cupping therapy can offer relief for some individuals with neck pain, it’s essential to consider the following precautions:
1. Seek Professional Guidance:
Always consult with a qualified and experienced practitioner who can assess your condition and recommend the most appropriate treatment plan.
2. Not Suitable for Everyone:
Cupping may not be suitable for individuals with certain medical conditions, such as bleeding disorders, skin conditions, or pregnancy. Discuss your medical history with the practitioner.
3. Temporary Side Effects:
Temporary marks or bruising at the cupping sites are common but usually harmless. However, if you have concerns, discuss them with your practitioner.
4. Complementary Treatment:
Cupping therapy is often used in conjunction with other therapies and should not be considered a standalone treatment for severe medical conditions.
Cupping therapy is a holistic approach to managing neck pain that has been practiced for centuries. While it may not be suitable for everyone and should not replace conventional medical advice when needed, many individuals have reported significant relief from neck pain through cupping sessions. If you’re considering cupping therapy, it’s essential to consult with a qualified practitioner to ensure that it’s a safe and effective option for your specific needs. As with any alternative therapy, the key to successful treatment lies in a well-informed and collaborative approach to your health and well-being.
1. Kim S, Lee SH, Kim MR, Kim EJ, Hwang DS, Lee J, Shin JS, Ha IH, Lee YJ. Is cupping therapy effective in patients with neck pain? A systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open. 2018 Nov 5;8(11):e021070. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-021070. PMID: 30397006; PMCID: PMC6231582.
2. Stephens SL, Selkow NM, Hoffman NL. Dry Cupping Therapy for Improving Nonspecific Neck Pain and Subcutaneous Hemodynamics. J Athl Train. 2020 Jul 1;55(7):682-690. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-236-19. PMID: 32556324; PMCID: PMC7384473.
3. Klecan, K. (2018). The Use of Dry Cupping with Active Movement to Increase Functional Mobility and Decrease Pain in a Patient with Cervical Disc Disorder: A Case Report.
4. Kim JI, Lee MS, Lee DH, et al. Cupping for treating neck pain in video display terminal (VDT) users: A randomized controlled pilot trial. Pain Res Manag. 2020;2020:4150673.
5. Cao H, Han M, Li X, et al. Clinical research evidence of cupping therapy in China: A systematic literature review. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016;2016:4247510.