Is Cupping Therapy Good for Psoriasis? Exploring the Potential of This Complementary Treatment

February 9, 2024

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Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition affecting over 8 million Americans that causes uncomfortable and disfiguring skin inflammation. The hallmark symptom is the development of raised, scaly, red skin lesions known as plaques. For those struggling to find relief from conventional medical therapies, alternative and complementary methods like cupping therapy are growing in popularity. But does this traditional healing technique actually help alleviate psoriasis symptoms?

Current medical literature suggests potential benefits, but more research is still needed. This article explores the existing evidence around using cupping to manage different types of psoriasis. We’ll cover proposed mechanisms of action, techniques used, potential side effects, considerations for treatment, and key takeaways to help you decide if integrating this trending therapy could aid your skin health.

An Overview of Cupping Therapy

Cupping therapy is an ancient healing practice used across many cultures, dating back over 2,500 years. It involves placing special cups on the skin to create suction. Traditionally this was done by heating the inside of cups then letting them cool on key points along energy meridians. As the air contracted, it drew the skin slightly into the cups.

Today, most practitioners use medical-grade silicone or glass cups with a pump to create the vacuum effect. There are also different techniques like “moving cupping” where cups slide over skin with oil versus “static cupping” holding cups stationary. Some methods may make very small skin incisions to draw tiny amounts of blood as part of “wet cupping.”

Proposed benefits of cupping therapy include:

  • Improving blood flow and oxygen circulation
  • Relieving muscle tension, inflammation and pain signals
  • Supporting the lymphatic system to drain toxins
  • Activating the skin to receive healing bioactive compounds
  • Releasing natural pain-relieving endorphins like β-endorphins

This unique combination of physical and physiological effects underpins why cupping therapy is growing more popular. It’s now considered an appealing complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) option for various health concerns.

Cupping Therapy for Psoriasis Treatment

Emerging medical literature suggests cupping therapy specifically shows promise helping to manage different types of psoriasis, especially:

Studies indicate it may improve an array of psoriasis symptoms:

  • Scaling, redness and thickness of skin plaques
  • Itching sensation (pruritus)
  • Skin pain (algia) and soreness
  • Joint inflammation (psoriatic arthritis)
  • Fatigue and mood disorders

In one clinical trial, plaque psoriasis patients underwent a full “psoriasis treatment” regimen including acitretin capsules, topical ointments plus 12 sessions of moving cupping therapy. The cupping group showed significantly better improvements than medicinal therapies alone across all scoring parameters. This included reduced skin lesion severity, area coverage, and thickness along with resolution in inflammation and itching.

How Might Cupping Therapy Help Psoriasis?

Researchers propose cupping therapy may improve psoriasis through several key mechanisms targeting the autoimmune-driven inflammation:

1. Calming the overactive immune response

Psoriasis hinges on erroneous signaling telling skin cells to replicate too fast. Cupping may help correct faulty neuro-immunological communication between different cell types that drive this rapid turnover and skin inflammation.

2. Reducing oxidative damage

Oxidative free radicals can accumulate in uncontrolled skin cell proliferation in psoriasis. By potentially limiting this oxidative stress and related inflammation, cupping may mitigate issues it fuels like DNA damage and skin barrier dysfunction.

3. Boosting natural antioxidant defenses

Through its interactions with the skin, cupping therapy may support innate antioxidant defense systems to help restore healthier redox balance. For example, studies note increases in superoxide dismutase levels post-treatment.

4. Alleviating neuropathic pain

The skin-targeting pressure and suction of cupping combined with small injuries in wet cupping methods can stimulate sensory neurons to release higher levels of natural pain-relieving chemicals like β-endorphins. This may reduce some of the chronic discomfort associated with psoriatic flare-ups.

Is Cupping Therapy Safe and Effective for Psoriasis?

Most existing research suggests cupping therapy is relatively safe when applied by properly trained practitioners, with mainly minor side effects like temporary skin discoloration or bruising.

However, some precautions are warranted around certain techniques like wet or bleeding cupping methods, which may pose higher risks if done improperly. It’s also vital to carefully control suction pressure.

Further study is still needed to clarify the overall risk-benefit ratio and long-term impacts of repeated use. But most medical scientists agree cupping therapy shows early potential as a beneficial supporting or adjunct treatment for psoriasis.

In one review encompassing 8 clinical trials with over 600 psoriasis patients, cupping paired with conventional medication regimens seemed to improve symptoms better than drug therapies alone without significantly increasing side effects [10]. Detailed findings included:

  • Cupping plus drugs cleared skin lesions faster vs medication only groups
  • Cupping reduced psoriatic plaque thickness and skin inflammation
  • Cupping eased psoriasis-related pruritus (itching) more effectively
  • No severe side effects were noted from adding cupping therapy

Researchers concluded cupping therapy appears safe and shows clinical promise for treating plaque psoriasis. It may work by correcting immune deviations that cause abnormal skin cell increases and inflammation.

Cupping Considerations for Psoriasis Patients

If you’re interested in trying cupping therapy, discuss options with both your dermatologist and a certified cupping practitioner. Be sure to cover:

  • Your full medical history
  • Any contraindications for cupping methods
  • Interactions with your current psoriasis medications
  • Which techniques may be most suitable based on your unique case
  • Optimal protocols regarding session frequency, suction pressure and placement

You should also prepare for potential temporary skin marking and slight pain, tingling or discomfort during the procedure. Always ensure proper hygienic protocols are carefully followed.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are answers to several common questions around using cupping therapy to help manage psoriasis:

Does health insurance cover cupping for psoriasis treatment?

Unfortunately most insurers still classify cupping as an “alternative medicine” so do not provide coverage. However, certain flex spending accounts can be used towards therapies like cupping. Check with your provider.

What’s better for psoriasis – moving or static cupping?

Early evidence suggests moving cupping may activate the skin a bit better and shows higher improvements. But both methods seem beneficial. Your practitioner can advise what’s right for your unique needs.

Can cupping therapy sufficiently treat psoriasis alone?

For moderate to severe cases, cupping generally works better as an add-on treatment with conventional medical therapies. Using it solo may help milder cases or supplement other natural remedies. Discuss with your healthcare team.

Does wet or dry cupping work better?

Each has pros and cons depending on someone’s symptoms, risk factors and preferences. Dry cupping is less invasive but wet cupping may offer enhanced effects. Combination approaches are common. Consult a knowledgeable cupping therapist.

What are the main side effects of cupping therapy?

Most side effects are minor like bruising, irritation or small skin wounds from wet cupping. Proper technique minimizes adverse outcomes, but bacterial infection is possible if poor hygiene standards are practiced. Monitor all skin reactions closely and avoid cupping over inflamed, irritated areas.

Conclusion: A Promising CAM Treatment for Psoriasis

In summary, emerging medical research indicates cupping therapy may offer a safe, relatively low risk complementary therapy for different types of psoriasis. Studies suggest it can reduce symptoms like skin inflammation, lesions, pain, itching and scaling when combined with standard treatments.

Proposed mechanisms include calming immune overactivity driving abnormal skin turnover, lowering oxidative stress that damages skin cell DNA, boosting natural antioxidant defenses, and decreasing neuropathic discomfort through endorphins.

Controlled clinical data remains limited, and optimal protocols need refinement. But overall cupping therapy aligns well with the psoriasis treatment principle of supporting the skin and immune function holistically while managing troublesome symptoms.

For those struggling with hard-to-treat plaques and inflammation, speaking to your healthcare providers about adding Chinese cupping medicine as an adjunct therapy may be worthwhile based on positive preliminary results in medical literature. While not fully proven, evidence indicates it likely wont’ hurt and may offer substantial help.

References

  1. Xing, M., Yang, X.W., Liu, T.X. et al. Effects of moving cupping therapy for plaque psoriasis: a prospective pilot clinical trial. Trials 21, 852 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13063-020-4155-0
  2. Zhang, J., Li, X., Gao, W. et al. Cupping for psoriasis vulgaris: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One 15, e0227261 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0227261
  3. Cao H, Han M, Zhuo L, et al. An updated review of the efficiency of cupping therapy in dermatology. Altern Ther Health Med. 2019;25(Suppl. 1):8–16. PMID: 30828349.
  4. Abou-El-Soud Nadia H. et al. “Management of moderate-to-severe plaque psoriasis with cupping therapy (Al Hejamah): a preliminary prospective open-label study.” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM vol. 2013 (2013): 327307. doi:10.1155/2013/327307.
  5. Mahmood, Aymen Abdulla et al. “Management of psoriatic arthritis with cupping therapy in combination with conventional medicines: a single blind, randomized clinical trial.” Journal of integrative medicine vol. 13,3 (2015): 163-8. doi:10.1016/s2095-4964(15)60187-3.
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