According to a BBC article, Gwyneth Paltrow has been seen with unsightly marks on her back. Fear not, they are there for a reason. The article points out that they are the result of a “treatment” known as cupping.
Cupping is the practice of heating the air inside a cup, usually made of glass, and then placing it on the body of the patient. As the hot air cools it forms a suction that holds the cup to the body and draws blood to the surface of the skin in the exact same manner as a large hickey.
“Why would Gwyneth do such a thing?” you might ask. Cupping has been used for hundreds of years (some say thousands) by people of many cultures as a relief from various ailments. According to the article it works like this.
The suction anchors the cup to the body and the area of skin covered is drawn up a few millimetres into the cup.
The cups are then left on the body whilst the area beneath is treated and the energy, or qi, is moved.
Qi energy is the basis of much traditional Chinese medicine (or TCM). It is a magical force that flows through the human body and can allegedly be harnessed to aid the body in healing. Qi cannot be demonstrated or measured and has never been proven to exist and yet it is the basis of a great deal of belief in the name of healing. You could claim the practice worked by manipulating a persons midi-clorians and you be no less scientific.
According to Jason Tarter and the Traditional Healing Centre here in Toronto cupping is mainly used for
the treatment of pain, gastro-intestinal disorders, lung diseases (especially chronic cough and asthma), and paralysis, though it can be used for other disorders as well.
His site then posts a list of ailments such as pediatric acute bronchitis, dysentery, acute and chronic gastritis, soft tissue injury, infertility, leukorrhea, common cold and facial paralysis. Though I must point out he never claims cupping will treat any of these ailments, he just lists them. To me this is a warning sign of a possible scam. And considering that many of the listed ailments are caused by infection, the most cupping will do is provide comfort while the infection worsens.
Cupping is a mostly harmless practice that provides the patient with a feeling of relief. While it does nothing for the body, if the patient believes it will often provide them with a placebo effect relieving them of discomfort while not actually treating them in any practical manner.
Why should we care then?
We should care any time a person makes a medical claim that can’t be verified. Modern medical treatment is built on the understanding that anything that may heal you might also harm you. As such, before a treatment is accepted as valid it must first pass a series of tests that compare it’s efficacy to it’s danger. By that rationale a treatment is either potentially dangerous or completely useless. In my opinion cupping falls into the latter category. While there is evidence of injury caused by cupping, it’s the result of an inept practitioner and not the “treatment” itself. But as I previously mentioned there is always the possibility that a person might postpone effective treatment while seeking scam treatment. So at best it may just be a rip off and at worst it may actually result in harm.
However when a respected news source such as the BBC publishes a credulous report of a famous person believing in such nonsense it lends credibility to the claims of it’s practitioners. The BBC didn’t solicit the opinions of anyone without an investment in the belief of cupping therapy. Not a single doctor, nurse or medical researcher. They didn’t even report if Gwyneth was seeking this “treatment” as a means of therapy or if she just did it because it feels good. Her credibility is used to support the claims of cupping practitioners even without the support of her opinion. That is not journalism, that’s advertisement and with any advertisement I suggest that the buyer always beware.