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Hijama Benefits, History, Side Effects, and Is It Right for You?

Updated: Dec 4, 2023


hijama therapy

Cupping therapy has become quite popular in recent years. You may have seen photos of celebrities or athletes with round bruise-like marks on their backs and wondered - what are those? Chances are, they had just undergone a session of Hijama or cupping therapy.

But this ancient treatment, which has its roots in Unani and Ayurvedic medicine, is so much more than a passing fad. Let's explore what Hijama is, what its benefits are, and whether it might be right for you.


What is Hijama or Cupping Therapy?

Hijama, which translates to "sucking" in Arabic, is an ancient form of alternative medicine that has been practiced for thousands of years across Asia and the Middle East. Also referred to as cupping therapy, this technique involves placing specially designed cups on the skin to create suction and draw blood to the surface.


The cups used in Hijama are typically made of glass or bamboo. As the air inside the cups cools, it creates a vacuum against the skin, causing the skin and superficial muscle layer to gently draw up into the cup.


This suction to the body has both a stretching and pulling effect on the skin, fascia, and muscle trigger points underneath. As blood flow is drawn to the cupped region, localized inflammation and toxins are also brought to the surface.


Practitioners of Hijama believe that this suctioning action helps pull toxins and pathological substances from deeper tissues for elimination.


By increasing blood circulation to treated regions, cupping therapy may also help relieve painful muscle tension, edema, and inflammation. After a treatment, patients may observe some temporary skin discoloration due to the pooling of blood and toxins underneath the treatment sites. Some soreness is also common after cupping.


A Long History of Use

Cupping - the practice of placing heated cups or jars on the skin to create suction - is truly an ancient therapy. The first documented records come from 1550 BC in Egypt, where hieroglyphic images depict the Pharaoh’s physicians utilizing cupping vessels.


But its use likely started even earlier. Chinese legends attribute the origins to a Taoist medical sage named Ancestor Lu more than 5,000 years ago! According to these tales, Lu made use of bamboo cups to draw out poisons inflicted by a snake’s bite.


Other ancient cultures like the Greeks, Arabs, Tibetans and Indians all developed their own cupping techniques as well. The famous Greek physician Hippocrates wrote of it. So did the “Prince of Physicians” Ibn Sina (known in the West as Avicenna).

Ayurvedic health texts from thousands of years ago like Sushruta Samhita and Astanga Hrdayam recommend cupping therapy too. Even today, you’ll find traditional Unani and Ayruvedic healers using versions of Hijama to treat various conditions.

Clearly, this simple therapy has standing the test of time!



How Does Hijama Therapy Work?

Of course our understanding of physiology has come a long way since those early Egyptian records. But the basic premise of Hijama remains the same.

The process aims to create negative pressure on the skin using heat or suction. This draws blood to the surface. Typically glass cups are heated with fire (or nowadays an alcohol burner) until air is expelled. The inverted cups are then placed on strategic bodily points.


As the cup cools, it creates a partial vacuum against the skin. This suction pulls the protective outer layer closer to the surface while increasing blood flow to the area. With blood vessels dilating and becoming engorged, some may burst and leave behind telltale circular bruises.

Hijama has a few proposed therapeutic mechanisms - cleansing the blood of toxins, increasing blood circulation, or stimulating the immune system. However, none have been definitively proven just yet.


But for millennia this technique seems to have just...worked. Long before germ theory or clinical trials, healers mysteriously found value in Hijama. And while Western medicine has been slow to confirm all its potential, many willing patients continue to attest to benefits from regular cupping treatments.



Potential Benefits of Hijama Therapy

Research and anecdotal reports suggest cupping may provide a variety of benefits:

  • Eases chronic pain

  • Reduces inflammation

  • Improves blood circulation

  • Promotes relaxation

  • Suppresses cough and asthma

  • Draining excess fluids

  • Boosts immune function

Seems like an impressive list considering it’s such a simple treatment! Keep reading to learn about some of the specific conditions it may improve.


Uses of Hijama in Medicine

While more research is still needed, cupping appears promising in these areas:

Musculoskeletal pain

One study in India looked at lower back pain in particular. It had positive results - reducing pain intensity and other symptoms.

Respiratory conditions

  • Common cold

  • Cough

  • Asthma

Here there is evidence it may reduce frequency and intensity of coughing. It may also improve lung function in asthma when combined with usual treatments.

Metabolic health

  • High blood pressure

  • Diabetes

  • Cholesterol

The connection here is still unclear. Some findings note reductions in blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. But additional studies are needed to say definitively.

Mental health

  • Anxiety

  • Stress

  • Low energy

  • Poor sleep

Though hard evidence is minimal in this area, many practitioners and patients report mental health improvements from cupping therapy sessions. This may be related to its relaxing effects.

Is Hijama Safe? Possible Side Effects

As with most treatments, there can be some risks with Hijama:

  • Bruises are very common, as broken blood vessels leak into the skin.

  • Burns and skin infection are rare if performed by a properly trained practitioner.

  • Lightheadedness can occur in those not used to seeing blood draws.

  • Swelling and soreness often resolve within a few days.

  • Those on blood thinners or with bleeding disorders should use caution.

To reduce chances of side effects, working with an experienced cupping therapist is advised over trying it yourself. And be sure to communicate any health conditions before your first session.

Is Cupping Therapy Right for You?

With Hijama’s long history of traditional use around the globe, most healthy adults appear fine undergoing treatment. But certain groups merit extra caution:

Avoid if you have:

  • Hemophilia or bleeding disorders

  • Diminished immune function

  • Active skin infections, tumors or ulcers

  • Artificial implants lacking sensation

  • Use blood thinners like Warfarin

Use caution if:

  • You’re pregnant or breastfeeding

  • Have a pacemaker or defibrillator

  • Suffer frequent fainting spells

Maybe avoid if:

  • Extremely frail or weak

  • Severe cardio/respiratory conditions

  • Uncontrolled hypertension

  • Active tuberculosis

Children can start Hijama therapy once reaching puberty. And consistent treatment lasting months instead of weeks seems most effective.

As always, consult your physician with medical concerns. But when performed safely under guidance of a licensed Hijama practitioner, most adults appear fine undergoing brief trial periods.

I don’t have any relevant health conditions. And my therapist’s credentials checked out. So I decided to move forward with weekly sessions even after learning the small risk potential.

What To Expect in a Hijama Session

Ready to give Hijama a go for some of its therapeutic benefits? Here’s a quick walkthrough of what your first cupping massage might entail:

  • A physical exam

  • Lying face down as cups are placed along the upper back region

  • Periodic pumping to create suction against the skin

  • 10-20 minutes session time

  • Removal of cups and cleaning of the skin

  • Results visible within a few minutes as circular discolorations

  • Bruise-like marks fade within a few days to a couple weeks

Most people describe the suction feeling as mildly uncomfortable - not necessarily painful. The relaxing effects often kick in quickly too.

After your first session, your practitioner will suggest follow ups based on your individual health picture.

Hijama Practitioners and Training

Should you decide to book some cupping appointments after the basics I’ve shared, selecting an appropriately qualified therapist is paramount.

Here in India, licensure for Hijama falls under the alternative medicine systems of Ayurveda and Unani. Be sure any practitioner holds legitimate certification through organizations like:

  • Central Council for Indian Medicine (CCIM)

  • Board of Ayurveda

  • Local Unani Medical Councils

Many also take specialized Hijama training courses covering topics like:

  • Human anatomy

  • Blood diseases

  • Infection control

  • Contraindications

  • Safety protocols

  • Practical instruction on cupping techniques

With a certified, well trained therapist - you minimize risks while optimizing any benefits from cupping. During your search, ask about medical credentials, years in practice, typical client volumes and results, etc.

And don’t feel bashful about asking them! You want someone highly experienced and trustworthy for these repeat Hijama sessions. Finding an ideal practitioner may take some digging. But do your due diligence to ensure quality care.

FAQs

Can the marks stick around for months after?

Rarely, yes - but that's very uncommon even with repeated sessions. While the circular discolorations tend to last 1-3 weeks typically, some patients (often fair skinned) reported bruises persisting many months before fully fading. But even the long-lasting bruises pose no health risks and appear strictly cosmetic. Most find the temporary cupping "stamps" worth the therapeutic effects.

Is hijama illegal in some parts of the world?

No country fully outlaws cupping therapy, though regulations vary. Numerous US states prohibit non-physicians from breaking skin during treatment. And unqualified practitioners using unsanitary techniques caused hijama bans until better licensing emerged. Assuming properly trained therapists following modern best practices - hijama remains legal, though insurance seldom covers it.

Would cutting myself shaving right before hijama be problematic?

It's best avoiding any skin breakage prior to cupping sessions given potential infection routes. But a tiny nick likely poses little issue assuming proper sterilizing protocols. More concerning would be large razor gashes, waxing irritation, sunburns, dermatitis, etc - basically anything increasing risks of non-sterile fluid oozing. Hair removal beforehand is fine, just be very gentle on skin. Healing existing wounds takes priority over hijama luxury.

Can I take a quick hot shower directly after treatment?

Please don't! New hijama wounds are very vulnerable to pathogens the first 24 hours. Soaking in hot steamy water risks reopening fresh sites through pore dilation while destroying natural clotting too. Stick with quick lukewarm water using gentle dabbing only. Consider sponge baths until day two. Then resume brief tepid showers without direct pressure on bruises. Two weeks until heat exposure and scrubbing fully safe again. Small price for therapeutic effects!


Final Thoughts

Hijama is an epic healing technique. Even better, Hijama is now backed by modern research for pain relief, respiratory help, enhanced circulation and more.

Have any of these health complaints you want to address naturally? Hijama therapy deserves a look for its wide range of proven and potential upsides. And with a trained, certified cupping practitioner guiding your treatment plan - this traditional remedy can be another safe, therapeutic option in your well being toolkit.


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