Fire and glass: What is ventosa or cupping therapy?

Isay Reyes, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 22 2019 10:54 AM | Updated as of Apr 22 2019 11:54 AM

MANILA — The room looked like a spa, only inside a hospital in Quezon City. Three rectangular beds with white sheets and blankets were divided by curtains, with glass cups beside each bed. 

Inside the clinic are experts who offer traditional treatments to cure body pains and ailments including ventosa, also known as the "cupping therapy."

"We want to be holistic here. We want to give everybody their preferred type of treatment, traditional man o modern,” ventosa expert Cathy Perey said. 

Ventosa is an ancient form of traditional therapy that uses cups with suction to stimulate the ‘Qi’ or the flow of energy in the different body parts. It is also known as the fire canister therapy, Perey said.

Anyone experiencing the following can be treated with ventosa: 

  • Stiff neck
  • Upper back pain
  • Lower back pain 
  • Myofascial pain (chronic pain disorder)
  • Muscle aches 
  • Muscle tightness
  • Muscle strain 
  • Malaise (feeling of overall weakness or disorder)
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cold exposure 
  • Skin conditions 
  • Frozen shoulder (pain and stiffness in the shoulder joint) 

Ventosa aids good ‘Qi’ or the flow of energy in the body. In Chinese medicine, having the right ‘Qi’ gives the body a good balance. This becomes the greatest tool to prevent sickness and disease. 

Kaley, a 20-year-old college student, said she is studying Chinese medicine and wants to experience the treatment herself. 

Perey grabbed a cotton ball and dipped it in denatured alcohol, lit the fire and heated up the first glass cup. In no more than a second, the heated cup was placed on Kaley’s back. The other cups followed and were strategically placed on Kaley's meridian points. 

Cathy Perey, Ventosa expert demonstrates how ventosa procedure is done

Slowly, the colors of the suctioned parts started to develop. Each produced a different shade between light pink to dark violet. The darker color indicated a more stagnated spot in need of proper blood circulation and the lighter ones indicated good blood flow. 

Perey said cupping increases blood circulation and sends energy to the areas where the cups are placed. This can also promote cell repair and create new blood vessels. A session of ventosa is equivalent to getting a massage from 10 people, she said. 

"With the use of the fire and ventosa glass — nag se-send ng blood sa area. Kung stagnated siya, ini-stimulate pag nilagyan mo siya ng cup and stimulate the blood. After tayo mag ventosa ang titignan natin is 'yung color. After kasi ng ventosa pinkish lang, namumula lang ng kaunti. Pero pag medyo stagnated ka, hindi na nag flo-flow smoothly ang blood,” Perey added. 

Meanwhile, 10 minutes into the session, Kaley said the tingling feeling seemed to focus on the parts where she was indeed experiencing pain. 

"The feeling is interesting because between my shoulder blades may masakit. Now parang may pini-pinch na pakiramdam. It feels nice,” she said. 

After the treatment, Kaley said she felt relieved, refreshed, and relaxed. 

Kaley and Cathy, the ventosa expert after their ventosa session

TREATMENT

Stationary ventosa is when cups are placed in meridian points allowing the skin to be suctioned for a long period of time (5 to 15 minutes). 

Oil ventosa uses oil with the suction cups. The body part is soothed with oil before the heated cup is placed on top. As the cups start to suction the muscle, it is slowly moved in a motion similar to having a massage. This is a more advanced ventosa recommended for people who are used to the discomfort that suction gives. 

Walking ventosa are for starters who would want to test if they can stand the pain of suction. The heated cups on the back are moved in a walking motion, not letting it stay for more than a second. 

Others also opt for ventosa with acupuncture by putting acupuncture needles in between the glass cups to aid better blood circulation. 

Cupping can be done once or twice a week depending on the medical condition of the patient. The type of ventosa is determined according to preference after a consultation with a doctor. Though ventosa is commonly done at the back part, cupping can also be performed in the other parts of the body that experiences pain. 

"Ang ventosa nakakatulong kung may mga pain sa likod. Kung gusto mo masarap ang tulog mo, nakakatulong din 'yan,” Perey said. 

SIDE EFFECTS AND RISKS

After ventosa, pink or violet circles are left to stay for 3 to 10 days as an effect of suction

It is important to consult with a doctor before ventosa to discuss a person’s preference. It is inevitable that after a cupping treatment, bruising or hematoma in the suctioned parts will appear for another 3 to 10 days depending on a person’s recovery. Other skin deep effects might include blisters and scarring caused by staying the cups for too long at high heat. 

Other effects include dizziness and sleepiness. It is better to take some rest for the next 2 hours after a cupping session. 

One should stay away from direct exposure to extreme cold temperature for a few hours after cupping. Warm bath is recommended 8 hours after the treatment. 

Extra caution should be observed for children and senior citizens since their skin are more sensitive and more susceptible to scarring. For menstruating women, bruises might stay longer in suctioned parts. Pregnant women should consult with their doctors first before treatment. 

People who have sunburnt skin and wounds should also avoid cupping because it might aggravate their skin conditions. 

In the alternative clinic where Perey performs ventosa, they charge 300 pesos. Several spas and wellness centers also offer ventosa with massage for around 450 to 1000 pesos depending on the type of massage that comes along with it.