Fire-Cupping: A TCM Infertility Treatment Option
Surely you’ve pressed your temples when your head is pounding or rubbed your abdomen when you ate too much. The touching of “certain points” on the body is a natural reaction.
Touching points on the body to relieve pain or cure a disease is also the foundation of acupressure and acupuncture.
But how do you react when your acupuncture practitioner or massage therapist brings out little cups at your weekly infertility treatment? Can the cups help boost the chance of pregnancy? Here’s more about fire cupping and why Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners may use this therapy for infertility treatments.
What is fire cupping?
Fire cupping (or cupping) is a form of traditional medicine found in cultures across the globe. This treatment involves placing cups containing reduced air pressure or suction onto the skin as a way of applying acupressure.
Acupressure is a popular form of Chinese healing that uses touch to unblock “Qi” or energy. Once unblocked, the energy can flow smoothly throughout the meridians or pathways in the body.
Most people are familiar with acupuncture, the insertion of needles in the body for treatment of disease. Acupuncture uses the same bodily points but without needles.
Ancient history to New Age trend
With cupping, Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners help to remove congestion and stagnation (stagnant blood and lymph) from the body and to improve the flow of “Qi” or energy throughout the body.
Some TCM practitioners use cupping to treat breathing problems or respiratory diseases such as a cold, bronchitis or pneumonia. Cupping may be used on the back, neck, or shoulders to treat musculoskeletal disorders.
For women going through Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) treatment, cupping may be used to release excess heat if overstimulation happens during an IUI or IVF cycle.
How does cupping work?
The actual cups themselves can be of different shapes and sizes. Usually cups are made of glass or plastic today, replacing the horn, pottery, bronze and bamboo cups used by ancient practitioners.
The TCM practitioner heats the cup or the air inside the cup with an open flame or a bath in hot scented oils. This creates the low air pressure. The heated cup is then gently placed against the person’s skin.
Over time, the warm air inside of the cup begins to cool. In doing so, the cup contracts and pinches the skin slightly inside of the cup.
Where is cupping used?
Usually TCM practitioners use cupping on soft tissue so the edge of the cup can form a tight seal on the skin. The practitioner may use one cup or many that cover a large area of skin.
Cups may be used alone or placed on top of an acupuncture needle. Also, your skin may be moistened with a massage oil or lubricant to allow the cup to slide easily across the skin.
After a cupping treatment, you may notice welts on your skin or small circles with reddened skin. Sometimes a bruise or red ring on the skin may appear where the cup was placed.
Can cupping treat infertility?
Some TCM practitioners use cupping with acupuncture to boost the chances of pregnancy.
On a scientific level, researchers find that both acupressure and acupuncture cause the body to release endorphins and monoamines. These are the body’s chemicals that block pain signals in the spinal cord and the brain.
The endorphin system consists of chemicals that regulate the activity of a group of nerve cells in the brain that relax muscles, dull pain, and reduce panic and anxiety. The system can also lower blood pressure and reduce the heart's workload.
These ancient touch therapies may also trigger the release of more hormones, including serotonin. Serotonin is a brain chemical that makes you feel calm and serene. Cupping with acupuncture may release anti-inflammatory chemicals, as well.
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- Bruce, D. Miracle Touch: A Complete Guide to Hands-On Therapies That Have the Amazing Ability to Heal. 2003. New York City: Random House.