Cupping: More than an Olympic Trend

Posted On Sunday, 21 August 2016
Cupping: More than an Olympic Trend

We have been seeing evidence of cupping for years.

Gwyneth Paltrow famously sported the spots on the red carpet. And, more recently, Olympians have been showing the distinct signs of the ancient practice throughout Rio.

What is this fascination with cupping, and does it work?

Cupping is a tradition that is believed to date back to 3000 BC. The Ebers Papyrus, one of the oldest medical textbooks, describes the Egyptians use of cupping in 1550 BC.

Dry cupping therapy involves the use of cups, made of bamboo, glass or plastic, applied to the skin to create suction. A flammable substance such as alcohol, herbs, or essential oils are placed in the cup and set on fire. Similarly, the cup itself can be heated with an open flame. The flames are extinguished and the cup is placed on the skin. The cooling air in the cup creates a vacuum which draws skin up and breaks the blood vessels (similar to a hickey). The bruising leaves the eponymous red cup marks.

Wet cupping is less common and involves the practitioner removing the cups and making small superficial cuts to the skin with a scalpel. A second suction is then performed to draw the blood out of the skin.

There are many who tout the benefits of cupping though there is little scientific data to support its use. In theory, it promotes blood flow and enhances healing of underlying structures as well as other maladies. The British Cupping Society claims that the therapy is used to treat blood disorders (anemia and hemophilia), rheumatic and muscular conditions, fertility, skin diseases like eczema and acne, and migraines.

Cupping is also considered by some to be an alternative therapy for cancer, though the American Cancer Society clearly states “available scientific evidence does not support that cupping has any health benefits.”

In reality, most data to support cupping therapy is anecdotal. There are NO large, randomized scientific trials demonstrating its effectiveness. Simply put, there is no evidence to show it works.

What are the drawbacks?

Cupping is generally considered safe. Side effects include local skin reactions such as bruising, burns, and infection. According to the British Cupping Society, cupping should NOT be used to treat metastatic cancer, muscle spasms, bone fractures, arteries, skin ulcers, and blood clots in veins.

So, what should we think after seeing Michael Phelps covered with cupping marks as he dove into the pool in Rio to win Gold?

It is safe to say you should think that he is an incredible athlete who has practiced for many years and is in great shape.

Is there a faint possibility those cups made his shoulders a bit less sore? We may never know…

Jennifer Haythe, MD

Dr. Jennifer Haythe is a practicing Cardiologist as well as the Assistant Professor of Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, Co-Director for the Women’s Center for Cardiovascular Health, Director of the Adult Pulmonary Hypertension Center and Director of Cardiac Obstetric Service.

Born in New York City, and raised in both Stamford and Greenwich, Connecticut, Dr. Haythe used her competitiveness and determination as a horseback rider at Greenwich Academy to excel at academics as well. Never one to sit still for long, Dr. Haythe knew early on that a regular desk job would not work for her. Drawing on an early love of science and desire to help others made pursuing a career in the medical field a natural fit.

Dr. Haythe went earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard University, and went on to complete her medical training and residency at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons in 2003. Initially planning a career in Pulmonary Critical Care, Dr. Haythe decided to switch to Cardiology after speaking with her mentor Dr. Donna Mancini.

Upon completing a fellowship for congestive-heart failure-cardiac transplants in 2005 (under Dr. Mancini), and cardiovascular diseases fellowship in 2009, Dr. Haythe began practicing at Columbia University Medical Center. Her specialties include pulmonary hypertension, heart failure and cardiac transplant.

Despite Cardiology being a heavily male dominated medical field, Dr. Haythe has become a sought after specialist in New York City, with particular interest in both chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension (CTEPH) and the care of pregnant women with cardiovascular diseases.

Dr. Haythe continues to find her own motivation and determination through the strong patient and family relationships she has forged, and the gratification of helping her patients get a new life with a heart transplant or assist devices, allowing patients to be able to live a full life with their families, as well as helping pregnant women safely deliver children and be able to care for them with post-delivery health care.

Dr. Haythe lives and practices in New York City. When not working, she enjoys an active lifestyle that includes running, boxing and yoga, as well as spending time with her husband, Eli and their two children.

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