Adherents to traditional Chinese medicine who suffer from recurring bronchitis and other lung related ailments which do not seem to respond well to nutritional regimens, herbal supplementation or other approaches will frequently resort to the practice of fire cupping.
Yet for Westerners, especially the somewhat squeamish set, the question that is frequently being asked is simple: is fire cupping a safe modality of Chinese medicine? Thus, should it be taught Chinese medicine training centers and should novice healers have the permission to attempt the practice on test subjects albeit it willing participants?
What is Fire Cupping
In its simplest form, fire cupping refers to the generation of a vacuum on the patients skin by using a cup, jar, or other implement, quite often made of glass in modern Chinese medicine applications, which is heated with an open flame to provide a temperature difference between the air inside the cup and the air on the outside which enables the creation of the vacuum.
Since the heat is only short lived, the skin is slightly raised within the rim of the glass or cup. The philosophy behind the practice rests on the thought that this form of pressure point manipulation will restore the free flow of the qi, the life force or bodily energy that is found in every living human being.
Detractors of the practice warn against the use of kerosene on the bottom of the cups which are generally swabbed with a flammable substance to aid in the heating process while lessening the amount of time that the heat must be applied to the vessel. This is supposed to prevent the cup from overheating and causing a burn on the skin of the patient. Unfortunately, the use of kerosene has led to severe allergic reactions on the skin of some people and thus is not usually recommended.
When the rim of the cup is not prepared with an accelerant, the heating process is prolonged and the possibility of leaving a burn on the patients body is increased. The practice of using a small portion of flammable material directly on the patients skin with little more than a thin barrier to shield the skin from damage is even more dangerous.
Skin Burn Risks
Even though the theory behind this practice adequately takes into account the fact that the lack of oxygen under the cup will cause the fire to go out, a bigger glass will contain more oxygen and thus the potential for the fire burning through the barrier and proceeding to burn the skin is high.
Whether or not fire cupping is a safe modality of Chinese medicine is not a question that will ever be answered succinctly by either proponents or opponents. Highly trained practitioners succeed in treating their patients with a minimum of burns or even skin irritation brought on by accelerants that may be employed.
Opponents of the practice will forever point to the angry red marks left after the treatment, some of which will result in sunburn like pealing, and in some cases may even lead to scarring. Similarly, since the skin pores are opened to a larger degree in those areas of the skin, pimples and acne may focus on these portions of the skin, leading to the creation of eczema-like circles.