Where EAST meets the Northwest
ANCIENT TREATMENT. A Cambodian man, Sok Pheakdkey, receives a cupping
treatment as traditional medicine at a cupping clinic, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
U.S. Olympian Michael Phelps made the world aware of cupping by showing his
marked muscular shoulders before diving into the pool at the Rio games recently,
but cupping, and a similar treatment known as coining, have been practiced in
East Asia for centuries. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
From The Asian Reporter, V26, #16 (August 15, 2016), pages 4 & 8.
Cupping and coining: I did it long before Phelps
By Sopheng Cheang
The Associated Press
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia ó I sported those purple round welts on my body long
before Michael Phelps was born. OK, so Phelps made the world aware of cupping by
showing his marked muscular shoulders before diving into the pool at the Rio
But cupping, and a similar treatment known as coining, has been practiced in
East Asia for centuries. I grew up with them. My mother made sure of that.
Phelps, the 31-year-old U.S. swimming star, was seen with purple circles
dotting his shoulder and back before his first race at the Olympics. The circles
were caused by the ancient Chinese treatment, in which he is a great believer.
It involves pressing glass or plastic cups to the area of discomfort and
either applying heat or suction to create a vacuum. The suction causes the large
Another similar treatment is coining. The principle is the same: Press a
large metal disc with an attached handle on the area of discomfort. While
cupping is virtually unknown in much of the world ó and dismissed by doctors
educated in western medicine as hocus pocus ó it is commonplace in China,
Cambodia, Vietnam, and Myanmar as a cure for ailments as varied as fever,
tuberculosis, rheumatism, and muscular pain.
Associated Press reporter Sopheng Cheang,
who grew up in Cambodia, narrates his
lifelong experience with coining and cupping.
I remember, some 40 years ago (I am 46), when I fell sick, my mother always
did coining on me. She would rub coconut oil on my skin and then push the coin
all over, leaving rows of welts. It scared me. I would cry and sometimes run
away. But my mother would say: "Be patient! It will take only a few minutes to
complete and it will hurt just a little bit, like an ant bite."
So I would let her, and it usually helped.
In my generation, most people did coining when they had a fever, including my
relatives, siblings, and neighbor. Cupping became popular later.
Now when I have a fever, flu, headache, or other problems, I go to a
neighborhood "cupping spa" and get both done. Not that I donít trust medicines.
But I also believe in cupping and coining. Got it done just last month for my
fever, which wasnít coming down with medicines and injections. One session of
cupping and the fever was gone.
The procedure was done in a well-illuminated room with one small bed and a
wall fan. I took off my shirt and lay down on my stomach so the practitioner
could work on my back, first by rubbing oil and then using the coin. After 15
minutes or so, she told me to turn over so she could work on my chest. The same
procedure was followed with cups as I dozed off.
But thereís a rule to coining and cupping ó no alcohol or bath for three
hours before and five hours after the treatment.
It is popular in the countryside because it is cheap and most Cambodians are
poor, and not every village has hospitals or clinics. Ironic, since health spas
in the U.S. charge a few hundred dollars for the service. Here we pay the
equivalent of $3 for an hour-long session.
Even Prime Minister Hun Sen has touted the benefits of coining and cupping.
He has told journalists that his wife Bun Rany does it on him when he is sick.
In ancient times, cupping was used to get rid of blood and pus when treating
skin abscess, but it has been expanded to treat tuberculosis and rheumatism.
Because cupping was widely used in Chinese folklore culture, the technique was
inherited by modern Chinese practitioners. It is established as an official
therapeutic practice in hospitals all over China.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health says on its website that cupping "is
considered generally safe for healthy people when performed by a trained health
professional." While saying the placebo effect may account for some claimed
health benefits, it also cites recent research that found it may be an effective
short-term treatment for chronic neck and lower-back pain.
I ran into Sok Pheakdkey, a 39-year-old driver at a local construction
company, at a cupping clinic where he had undergone treatment for fever.
"Now I feel I am fully recovered. Do you see the sweat coming from my head
and back? That means the fever is gone," he said. He said the medicines he
bought from a pharmacy brought his fever down, but only for a while.
"I donít mean to say that I donít trust medicines. But in my experience, the
best way to treat these illnesses is coining and cupping. My body seems to be
addicted to this type of treatment even though it hurts," he said.
The Cambodian Health Ministry does not advocate cupping, and warns that it
could be a health risk.
Health Ministry spokesman Ly Sovann told me that the practice is not known to
cure any illnesses, and in fact can be dangerous for people with high-blood
pressure or heart problems. Still, the practice is not banned in the country
because it is almost a way of life for Cambodians, he said.
"My advice is that Cambodia people should start changing their habit. They
should consult physicians or doctors first if their illness is something related
to high-blood pressure and heart attack. Then after they talk with the doctor,
of course, they can do coining or cupping if they prefer," he said.
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