Cupping is a traditional Chinese medical practice that has recently been receiving more attention as potentially effective in treating musculoskeletal disorders such as TMJ. Although there is some promising evidence for this approach, there are significant risks associated with the procedure, and it may be more trouble than it’s worth.
Theory and Effectiveness of Cupping
Cupping is an unusual approach to treatment. Typically, heat such as a small flame is introduced into a cup. This heats the air within, and the heat causes the pressure in the cup to increase, forcing some of the air out. The cup is then placed on the skin, creating a tight seal. When properly performed, the cup itself is either not heated or only mildly heated, but as the air inside the cup cools, the pressure drops because there is less air in the cup than there was before and this partial vacuum pulls on the skin and muscles, drawing them partly into the cup.
In theory, this suction can have a profound effect on the tissues of the body, loosening up clogs and tension, resulting in an area of relaxed muscles, loosened joints, and improved circulation. That’s what practitioners claim it will do for people with TMJ and related jaw pain.
There is a small amount of clinical support for the practice of cupping, though not directly with TMJ. A comprehensive review of research concluded that cupping is comparable to home relaxation for ongoing neck pain. That’s not a huge endorsement, but it means that cupping might provide an alternative for people who are unable to take time to relax their neck or jaw.
Serious Side Effects
One of the reasons why people are drawn to cupping and other alternative medical practices is the perception that they are “natural” and “safe.” Certainly, there’s nothing natural about the practice of cupping, and it may not be as safe as people wish. There have been a number of reports of serious infections associated with the combination of acupuncture and wet cupping.
Practitioners who are not experienced with cupping can also cause burns by overheating the cups.
With these serious consequences and limited evidence of effectiveness, it’s hard to see why anyone would choose cupping therapy for TMJ.
Proven Clinical Treatment
If you are looking for an effective treatment for your TMJ, we can help. We have helped many patients get relief from pain they thought was inevitable and permanent.