Got Chronic Headaches? There’s a Cup for That!

August 8, 2013

Could the next new migraine treatment be found in the celebrity tabloids?  While standing in the checkout at the grocery waiting to pay for your chronic headache medication, have you been noticing famous Hollywood personalities photographed with odd-shaped marks on their skin? 

It’s not like these stars cannot find clothes to cover the faint circular impressions, imprinted on otherwise perfectly spray-tanned complexions.  But true to Tinseltown trends, allowing ‘sneak peaks’ enhances the mystique of their latest exotic therapies.  These strange circular skin impressions are deposited by cupping therapy. 

Quippy-ness aside for the moment: cupping is actually an ancient Asian treatment for many ailments that possibly dates back to 3000 B.C. That according to Wikipedia.

The theory behind this practice, similar to the one which explains acupuncture, is that stagnated energy and blood flow must be restored to promote healing from inflammation, like pain from chronic headaches. There are two varieties of cupping therapy: dry (which is supposed to be more relaxing and therapeutic) and wet. During dry cupping small glass cups are heated to remove oxygen, thereby creating a vacuum, and placed upside down on the person’s skin. 

The skin is sucked up as the glass cools, stimulating blood flow to the area.  After 5 to 10 minutes the cups are removed, and the telltale circular marks remain for up to several days.  During wet cupping therapy, a small cut is made in the skin to allow for controlled bleeding–um, somewhat unappealing? 

A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine claimed that it was an effective migraine treatment, but a comment on Wikipedia called the study’s reliability into question.   

The Huffington Post featured a story earlier this year about how stars like Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Aniston, Victoria Beckham, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lady Gaga and Wimbledon champ Andy Murray have undergone cupping therapy.  According to the article, the treatments are supposed to be stress relieving and possibly helpful in easing pain and stiffness. 

While most positive evidence is anecdotal, there is very little medical research supporting these benefits.  As with many alternative migraine treatments, it is important to have a conversation with your chronic headache specialist before trying something that may or may not be safe for you. 

After all, just because alternative treatments don’t involve pharmaceuticals or invasive medical procedures, does not mean they are without any risk.  Unless you really believe that everything you read in the tabloids is true, you might not want to follow the trendiest celebrity medical treatments without doing your own fact-finding. 


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