Although cupping therapy has been around for many centuries, it has not been used in the veterinary industry until recently, and has been slow to take hold and become widely used. Last night we welcomed Diana Landskron to our platform to lecture on this modality, and in anticipation of this webinar I decided to ask her a few questions about cupping.
Ané: What exactly is cupping, and how does it work?
Diana: Cupping is a vacuum-based therapy, where a glass is placed onto the skin. Through underpressure, the skin, fascia and muscles are sucked into the glass. The body reacts with several processes; for example increasing blood flow, metabolism and the activity of the immune system that wants to repair and renew cells. A vacuum is created, whether electrical or manual (for example via a little air balloon on the glass, heated air that cools down and sucks the skin into it, or via a manual pump on the glass). In veterinary therapy we use the mechanical effect on the fascia and muscles to intensify, complete or replace our manual work.
Ané: How is it possible to create a vacuum on an animal with a coat?
Diana: On a coat it is a little tricky to create a vacuum. Manual glasses create a lower one-time vacuum. That means the air must be insulated very well. With fur the insulation isn’t good, but the problem can be fixed with ultrasounic gel or wet fur. It’s easier with an electrical solution, as the vacuum is much higher and is constantly renewed. That‘s why intense moving techniques are only possible with electrical systems.
Ané: Is it possible to damage the tissue through the use of cupping?
Diana: Damage of the tissue, or bruising, is a central part of the cupping therapy in human medicine. When the skin is sucked into a glass by vacuum for a certain time, little blood vessels get damaged and the blood comes to the surface of the skin. The body reacts with hyperactivity to repair and renew the cells. The metabolism rises immediately. In this way the organism gets the chance to cleanse itself of toxins and heal the whole area.
In veterinary therapy we focus more on the mechanical effect on fascia and muscles, and try to avoid bruises. They wouldn’t be bad for the organism, but as we know from human therapy, a bruise can hurt for a few days – something that an animal can’t understand and should not have to go through after a therapy. With correct cupping times adapted for every body part, it is easy to avoid bruises and just focus on the prior loosening effect.
Ané: How do horses and dogs respond to having cups placed on them?
Diana: Horses enjoy cupping therapy. Most tense patients feel more comfortable with indirect pressure that lifts the skin and fascia rather than direct pressure on the painful area. I‘ve had very positive experiences with horses, especially on the back area. With dogs I was sceptical at first. I wanted to see how they would react. I was suprised to find that dogs react in an even more relaxed way than horses. We begin with a standing dog, but many of them soon sit down or even lie down and close their eyes.
Ané: Where can someone learn about the use of cupping?
Diana: Cupping isn’t very common at the moment, probably because electrical systems have been available for only a few years and manual cupping was never really versatile enough. Most courses on electrical systems focus only on human therapy, but they‘re still helpful, as you can learn the basics and the technique. You then have to transfer the knowledge to veterinary therapy. In Germany there have been a few courses in the last few years, and we now want to organise international and online courses for interested persons.
Ané: What are the biggest cautions that one should keep in mind when performing cupping?
Diana: Alongside the therapeutic effect, we need to focus on the comfort of the patient. That‘s why we should always check the reaction of the horse, making sure that the underpressure is enjoyable and not too high. You should also keep in mind that cupping can worsen fresh injuries (for example, haematoma and tendon or muscle injuries). It is important always to check the patient through walking and palpation first, before doing cupping.
I would highly recommend that you watch this informative webinar on cupping for more information, and please let me know how you feel about this modality. There are many who believe strongly that cupping should not be used on animals at all. I would love to hear your thoughts on it, and if you are using or would like to use this modality in the future – I know I would love to try it on my horses and then my patients!