Updated: Jul 20, 2021
Years ago, when I was an acupuncture student, I was chatting about the fascinating treatments that I was learning about at the Shabbat table. I described a technique of putting an alcohol drenched cotton ball lit on fire, quickly into glass cup, pulling out the fire and putting it quickly on the skin making a suction cup action.
My grandmother, A’H, piped up and said, “Oh, that’s bankes!”
We called it cupping, but apparently in Eastern Europe it was referred to as bankes. My grandmother went on to tell me that her mother and grandmother would do bankes to treat pneumonia. Plus, she still had her mother’s cups. (Yes, she gave them to me and I use them all the time!)
Cupping is also known as bentusa, ventouse, gac hoi, bahnkes, kyukaku, kupa cekme, bankovani and in Israel cosot ruach. The exact geographic origin of cupping is unclear. Records and traditions indicate that cupping is a healing method that is and was used in numerous countries from Japan to Greece to Venezuela.
In earlier centuries cups were fashioned out of bamboo, nut shells, hollowed out animal horns, earthenware and so on. This suction technique was used to purge poison from snake and insect bites, clear out infectious flesh and even to balance emotions.
Today, glass cups are widely used. The industry is introducing silicon cups and plastic cups, that use suction valves instead of fire. Licensed acupuncturists and other practitioners use cupping for a whole host of issues:
~Deep tissue massage and myofascial release to relieve muscle tightness
~Lymphatic drainage to increase immunity and eliminate edema
~Sprains and injuries
~Cough and lung congestion: Especially for children
~Detoxifcation after medication, anesthesia and harmful substances
~Chronic conditions and pain
~Reuvenates skin and clears wrinkles, cellulite, scars, stretch marks and varicose veins
~Temporal Mandibular Joint disorder
Cupping is administered most commonly on the back and neck for detox. It can be used on any part of the body, depending on the complaint or area of injury. Special narrow, low pressure cups are used on the face for scar reduction and facial rejuvenation.
The healing mechanism of cupping is the circulation that is jump started by sucking up the skin. The compressed skin forces the blood to move in the muscles beneath the skin and results in a filtering of toxins from the tissues, as well as softens tight muscles. Once removed, the cups usually leave round marks that vary in color from pink to dark purple/red. The shade of darkness left by the cup shows how much stagnation or “sha” was released from the tissues. Darker marks indicate that those areas had a lot of blockage freed from the skin or muscle. Lighter marks show that there was not much stagnation to move.
A red/purple bruise is the most common side effect from cupping. These bruises look painful, but actually, the patient does not feel pain during the treatment or after. Sight pressure or tightness is felt wherever the cups are placed. The level of suction can be altered, so if the patient is comfortable, the level of suction can be reduced.
Practitioners should instruct patients to keep the cupped area covered as much as possible after cupping. By releasing toxicity from the skin and opening the pores, the area is vulnerable to “wind invasion”. “Wind invasion” is the traditional Chinese medical term for a cold or windy draft entering the body. “Wind invasion” can cause the person to catch a cold or be susceptible to flu. Making sure that the cupped (or bruised) area is covered will ensure the patient stays healthy.
For this reason, one should avoid bathing or swimming after cupping. For 2-3 days after cupping be sure to get dry, warm, and covered as soon as possible after bathing.
Cupping is a safe alternative treatment for well being and health.