Thursday, October 27, 2016

Out of The Box 2: Maria Tries Cupping



Cupping has recently made headlines at the Rio Olympics 2016 when Michael Phelps, and several Olympians have been spotted rocking huge round purple bruises in their backs. Sadly, these bruises didn't come from extreme BDSM play (though that would've been a much better story to tell) but rather came from another ancient therapy known as cupping.
 
Cupping is an ancient therapy mostly used in Middle Eastern and Asian countries. The therapy involves putting multiple warm round suction cups in your back targeting the sore parts of your body. This process is believed to stimulate muscles and blood flow. Back in the day, cupping therapy has been used to cure all kinds of ailments including shingles, facial paralysis, and even acne.

A 2015 study (Lauche et al., 2015) examined whether cupping worked better than a sham-controlled treatment for patients suffering fibromyalgia, a chronic disorder known to cause widespread pain, muscle stiffness, and even depression. For this study, participants were put in one of three conditions (k=3): Cupping therapy, sham cupping therapy, or the usual care condition. Those in cupping therapy and sham cupping therapy condition received the treatment 2-5x a week. Conversely, those in sham cupping therapy was administered using cupping glass with a hole on top which negates the pressure created by the real cupping method. Subjects were blind in this study and not aware of any sham treatment. They were told they would receive either traditional or modified soft cupping (aka sham treatment). A sample of N=141 participated in this study, majority of which were able to accurately identified which therapy they had received despite the blind treatment. Additionally, patients in the cupping group have reported significantly less pain than usual care (difference -14.9, 95% CI -22.4 to -7.5, p<0.001), but not compared to sham (difference -4.0; 95% CI -12.4 to 4.3, p=0.335). It was concluded that perhaps cupping therapy is more effective to those who are suffering fibromyalgia than usual care. However, since there is no significant difference between cupping therapy vs. sham cupping therapy, the effects could just be confounded or be due to the regular placebo effects (Lauche et al., 2015).

Another study (Lee et al., 2011) examined several existing systematic reviews (SRs) regarding the effectiveness of cupping. Out of all SRs collected, only 5 met the authors’ criteria which encompasses: pain conditions, stroke rehabilitation, hypertension, and herpes zoster. They found that most study have relatively low sample size in each study. They concluded that at best, cupping can temporarily alleviate pain but it could be largely due to placebo and not enough strong evidence backing this claim.

Since I am having what seems to be my quarter life crisis by trying a bunch of random crap to fill-up my time, I decided to browse groupon once again for a cupping session. I found this little haven in Golden Valley: The Minneapolis Family Acupuncture. As I entered through this door, I couldn’t help but burst out laughing. To me, this treatment I’m about to try is almost the equivalent of Crystal Healing (aka another BS treatment). I quickly shrugged and composed myself back to normal and reminded myself to keep an open mind. After all, this is what this project is all about: To go outside my box and expose myself to new experiences. 


First impression
I walked inside the clinic’s door and the facility was surrounded with Asian zen vibe. I’m not really sure what to expect at this point. All I knew was that cupping sounds weird and I want in on it.  It also looks painful, but I secretly enjoy some pain so I was all-ready to go!

The Process:
I was instructed to take my top off as the lady escorted herself out. I laid facing down as I wait for her. She comes in with a bunch of cups, a match, and oil. She then puts oil all-over my body and puts fire in the cup to help with suctions all over my body. She put about 10 cups in the back of my body for 20-30 minutes. She came back and I moaned how good it felt, so she let me have it for another 10 minutes.


What I really liked about this place was that they never made claims that it was a legitimate medicinal treatment. The lady (oh god, sorry to keep calling you lady) who helped me, told me about the background of acupuncture and cupping, and how it’s folk medicine. I appreciated that honesty without this grandiose claims of endless list of benefits.

The Results?

I’m not quite sure how it all really works but I’m embarrassed to admit how much I enjoyed this process. It actually made my body feel really good—during and after the process. Once the session was over, I asked her why it felt good. She then equated cupping with massage, and I can see why. 

The Verdict:

I’m all about scientific evidence and I am cautious to suggest something that isn’t strongly empirically supported. Nevertheless, if you want to try cupping for fun to see what it’s like, I say go for it! As long as you’re not using it as your primary source of treatment, there’s no harm in trying cupping. Ultimately, there’s just no strong evidence supporting this treatment. Nonetheless, physicians aren’t too alarmed about this increasing trend since there’s no significant adverse effect
The Aftermath of Cupping
of such treatment quite yet. There seems to be a trend in sports to be bombarded with pseudoscience treatments to temporarily alleviate pain (shout out to Cryotherapy and Cupping). I personally support whatever you want to try as a secondary/alternate treatment, but highly discourage to use treatments with little to no scientific evidence to be your main course of treatment. Honestly, I’ll probably do it again! It felt surprisingly good, but may explore the other types of cupping/acupuncture.

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