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Ilaj-bil-Hijammah (cupping therapy): Overview, benefits and side effects

Hijammah-Cupping therapy is an ancient form of alternative Unani (Gecko-Arab) medicine in which a therapist puts special cups on your skin for a few minutes to create suction

Post by on Monday, September 20, 2021

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Cupping (Hijammah in Arabic) is an ancient, holistic method (Unani regimental therapy) for the treatment of a variety of diseases. Though the exact origin of cupping therapy is a matter of controversy, its use has been documented in early Egyptian and Chinese medical practices. Diverse human civilizations have contributed to the historical development and continuation of cupping therapy.
Hijammah-Cupping therapy is an ancient form of alternative Unani (Gecko-Arab) medicine in which a therapist puts special cups on your skin for a few minutes to create suction. People get it for many purposes, including helping with pain, inflammation, blood flow, relaxation and well-being, and as a type of deep-tissue massage.
The cups may be made of:
Cupping therapy might be trendy now, but it’s not new. It dates back to ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern cultures. One of the oldest medical textbooks in the world, the Ebers Papyrus, describes how the ancient Egyptians used cupping therapy in 1,550 B.C. In Arabic and Islamic countries, cupping (Hijammah) are recommended in the Al-QanunFi’l-Tibb, Canon of Medicine (1025AC), to treat menstrual conditions. According to Galen, the principle of indication for bloodletting is to eliminate residues or divert blood from one part to another.Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) is reported to have been a user and also advocated about it.
There are different methods of cupping, including:
Dry cupping (Hijammah-bila-Shurt)
Wet cupping (Hijammah-Maul-Shurt)
During both types of cupping, your therapist will put a flammable substance such as alcohol, herbs, or paper in a cup and set it on fire. As the fire goes out, they put the cup upside down on your skin.
As the air inside the cup cools, it creates a vacuum. This causes your skin to rise and redden as your blood vessels expand. The cup is generally left in place for up to 3 minutes.
A more modern version of cupping uses a rubber pump instead of fire to create the vacuum inside the cup. Sometimes therapists use silicone cups, which they can move from place to place on your skin for a massage-like effect.
Wet cupping creates a mild suction by leaving a cup in place for about 3 minutes. The therapist then removes the cup and uses a small scalpel to make light, tiny cuts on your skin. Next, they do a second suction to draw out a small quantity of blood.
You might get 3-5 cups in your first session. Or you might just try one to see how it goes. It’s rare to get more than 5-7 cups, as per experiences which I learned from last 21 years of my services.Private quacks are using 10-20 cups in single sitting to mint money from innocent clients.
Afterward, you may get an herbal henna or neem antiseptic ointment and bandage to prevent infection. Your skin should look normal again within 10 days.
In Kashmir I have proudly introduced cupping therapy in year 2010 at smaller level in AYUSH Unit District hospital Pulwama with so many apprehensions by patients about safety and efficacy of this therapy. But now apart from vast network of Govt run AYUSH healthcare centres & dispensaries across J&K some private clinics are also doing such therapies with good public responses and follow ups. But there are growing regulatory and scientific ethical concerns from senior Health and AYUSH officers about Hijammah in our Union territory.
The larger public interest to get therapeutic or prophylactic Hijammah is nowadays mostly exploited by unqualified persons in J & K who are falsely claiming many benefits of Hijammah for many serious diseases not proven clinically or scientifically. They are using unhygienic, messy and unregulated set ups which can be harmful for patients who may acquire many serious transmissible infections including HIV, & Hepatitis B. Such unregulated private Hijammah setups are concerning even developing nations like United Kingdom also.
What Does the Research Show?
There haven’t been many scientific studies on cupping. One report, published in 2015 in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, notes that it could help with acne, herpes zoster, and pain management.
That’s similar to the findings from a 2012 report, published in PLoS One. Australian and Chinese researchers reviewed 135 studies on cupping. 
There are many other research papers published on Cupping in Arabic & Asian countries to prove their philosophical concept about this therapy but western scientists still do not accept it as evidence-based treatment.
Side Effects
Cupping is fairly safe, as long as you go to a trained health professional. But you could have these side effects in the area where the cups touch your skin:
Mild discomfort.
Skin infection.
If the cups and equipment become contaminated with blood and are not sterilized correctly between patients, blood borne diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B and C can be spread.
What to Ask Your Doctor First
Here in Kashmir as per curriculum and trainings of AYUSH services only BUMS doctors can practice Hijammah or cupping therapies if he has registered clinic with Govt of J & K. This service is freely available in Govt Unani Hospital Shalteng Srinagar or most of the AYUSH Units in District hospital or Medical Colleges.
Persons must never try to receive this semi surgical procedure from fake practitioners or hakeems/davakhana persons or gym trainers. Talk to your doctor before you start cupping or any other type of alternative or complementary medicine. And talk extensively with your cupping therapist, too, before you try it. Ask:
What conditions do they use cupping for?
What is your training with registration No.?
What is your experience in using it?
Am I already getting the standard treatments for my condition?
Are there reasons I should not get cupping?
Contact nearest District AYUSH Officer to report any Hijammah false practitioner.
(Dr Altaf Hussain Shah, Medical Officer (UnaniMedicine) AYUSH Unit, District Hospital Pulwama. Email: - draltafshah@gmail.com)

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