When I introduce cupping to kids, they’re hooked. They request it right away in every treatment. Most of them even say that of all the tools I use, cupping is their favorite.
Cupping is a system that uses glass, bamboo, silicon, plastic or earthenware cups to create a suction on a person’s skin. This is done by sucking the air out of the cup and placing it on the skin. The skin is pulled upward into the cup to improve blood flow, open the pores and release tension in the area. With kids, I use gentle cupping to improve stress, muscle tension, insomnia, inflammation and other symptoms.
How Does it work?
Parents often ask me how cupping works. There are many explanations for the therapeutic mechanism behind cupping.
It starts with understanding the influence of heat in the body.
According to Traditional East Asian Medicine (TEAM), heat is a medical symptom. Eastern medical practitioners aim to balance the level of heat in the body. People – kids and adults alike – can have internal heat symptoms (those that are inside their body) or external heat signs (those that are visible and present on the outside). Feeling hot at night time is an example of an internal heat symptom. Red, inflamed acne, eczema or other skin conditions are visible external heat signs.
When I look for heat in a patient, I am monitoring a variety of body systems for its presence. It could influence the patient’s body temperature. They may have skin that feels warm to the touch. They may complain of feeling hot more frequently than others around them. However, some kids have signs of internal heat, but do not feel warm at all. In this case, a pattern of heat symptoms and signs affect multiple internal body systems. When excess warmth causes or aggravates health conditions, we see multiple body responses related to heat, such as these:
- a dark red tongue color
- a tongue with a bright red tip and/or a yellow coat across the top.
- irritability, anger, frustration
- difficulty relaxing and thus difficulty sleeping
- nightmares, night terrors, restless sleep
- dry skin and lips that have a red coloring to them
- constipation or dry, hard, painful bowel movements
- dark yellow or orange urine (not affected by supplements, medications or food)
- strong smelling stools, urine or gas
- red and painful acne, other red rashes or skin conditions
- sore throat
- skin that feels warm to the touch
There are too many signs and symptoms to list all of them here, but this is a start in understanding heat’s impact on the body. Heat is most commonly found in children because they are young and active. It is easy for them to fall into an imbalance that involves too much heat.
While heat sounds like a simple concept, it can become a very complex problem to treat, especially when it affects multiple body systems. One way to clear heat from the system is to open the pores and vent it from the body. Cupping is a fun and unique way to do this. In this way, it cools a child’s temperature. This includes calming their “internal temperature,” to decrease frustration, anger and irritability.
Another way to vent heat from the system is to relax the body and release physical or emotional tension. Many children – primarily teenagers but younger kids too – have tension in their neck and shoulders. Heavy backpacks full of text books and hunched forward postures from playing on iPads or computers have created a “neck and shoulder tension epidemic” in our culture. We’re all guilty of promoting activities that add to this epidemic – me included.
Some children who have no symptoms of physical pain or stiffness still carry mental/emotional strain that can, at times, result in physical tension. Cupping lifts the skin, opens up the surface capillaries and promotes fresh blood flow through the area. This action restores blood, fluid and energy flow through the body. In doing so, improves both physical and emotional relaxation.
You can learn more about how cupping works from this great Everyday Acupuncture podcast.
Does It Hurt?
Are you kidding me? The first person to let me know if something hurts would be a child. If cupping was painful, children would cry and beg not to come back, but my practice is bursting with children who beg and plead for cupping.
I completely understand why I get this question so often – no one wants to subject their child to something uncomfortable. But rest assured – cupping is painless!
When I work with kids, they get to choose how tightly I place the cups, similarly to how adults get to direct the strength and depth of a massage. I start out very gentle and pay close attention to what feels comfortable for the child.
Teenagers may request stronger cupping if they’re dealing with acute or chronic pain, because if feels good similarly to a deep massage. Younger children tend to stick with gentle cupping, as the taste for a stronger round of cupping develops with time.
What About Cupping Marks?
Kids do receive marks from cupping. However, because I use gentle cupping on kids, they are usually not very dark. They do not look like pictures of famous Olympic athletes or other adults who have received cupping. Kids don’t have nearly the level of tension in their muscles as adults do. The more tension a person has, the darker the cupping marks. Also, I don’t leave cups on kids for long periods of time, because, well – let’s be honest – kids don’t lay around in one position for very long. I let the cups rest for anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes and then we move on. The longer a cup stays on one position, the darker the mark.
Here is a picture of cupping marks on a 7 year old child – you can see that they are not very dark. These types of marks last about 3 – 7 days, depending on the child’s ability to heal.
What Does It Help With?
The first thing that I see change after a few treatments with children is their sleep. Sometimes, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep is the result of a more complex condition. If so, it may take more than just a few balancing treatments to remedy. Other times, all they need is a little bit of heat clearing and balancing and they tank out right around bedtime.
As mentioned earlier, teenagers (and some children) deal with constant aches and pains. They carry around heavy bags and sit at computers for hours at a time. They get repetitive motion injuries from being very active in sports. They also get stiff from being very inactive while sitting all day long in school. Neck and shoulder pain, tension headaches, back pain, hip pain, even abdominal pain have responded favorably to cupping in the past.
Stress responds favorably to cupping as well. Environmental influence, dietary response, home or school interactions and political tension all contribute to an increase in mental/emotional stressors for our kids.
Children and teenagers have the opportunity to learn stress coping methods and to form a resilient mental/emotional landscape from a young age. They can create lifelong habits to decrease their stress by trying treatments like cupping early.
In addition to sleep challenges, pain and stress, cupping is also used in treatment for anything involving heat and the list is extensive. Here are some of the conditions that may benefit from cupping:
- ADHD/Attention Issues
- Acute Ear Infections
- Common Cold or Flu
- Developmental Disorders
- Digestive Issues (chronic constipation or diarrhea, abdominal pain, etc.)
- Chronic Ear Issues
- Eczema or Rashes
- Chronic Sinusitis
- Chronic Urinary Problems
Kids truly enjoy pediatric appointments at Light & Dark Acupuncture because the tools used are new, interesting and adventurous. Cupping, which is typically included in each pediatric session, is no exception to the rule. Not only is cupping okay to do on children, it is painless and effective and they absolutely love it.
To learn about more tools used in Light & Dark pediatric sessions, check out The 5 E’s: What to Expect In Non-Needle Pediatric Treatments at Light & Dark Acupuncture.Come try out cupping!