• Wet cupping in action in Amman, Jordan. (Cupping Therapy)Source: Cupping Therapy
The ancient Arabic treatment is touted to clean your blood and boost your health. We examine how the age-old process of ‘blood letting’ actually works.
By
Yasmin Noone

Source:
The Foreign Correspondent Study Tour
30 Nov 2016 - 4:38 AM  UPDATED 1 Dec 2016 - 5:03 PM

You’ve heard of the Chinese medical practice dry cupping and the touted health benefits associated with the alternative therapy, but have you tried the Islamic healing technique of ‘Hijama’ or wet cupping?

The popular Islamic medical practice of ‘blood letting’, which dates back to ancient Egyptian times, aims to boost your blood circulation and clean out your lymphatic system via controlled, supervised bleeding techniques.

Although this bloody therapy may sound rather gruesome, research suggests it could be effective in treating shingles, facial paralysis, psoriasis, asthma and cervical spondylosis.  

Jordan-based general practitioner and wet cupping expert Dr Sireen Hatem Alhammoury says it’s also relatively pain-free.

“The patient may receive a little pain sensation but it is like the scratch of a cat,” says Dr Alhammoury, who has been performing Hijama in Amman, Jordan, for over 20 years.

She explains that the remedy works by releasing old red blood cells and toxic materials in the blood – remains of medication, nicotine, tar, and lactic and uric acid – from the body.

“These toxins and red blood cells that are not functioning anymore should be removed by the lymphatic system through sweat, urine and stools,” says Dr Alhammoury.

“But with wet cupping, we remove it directly. The cup sucks all the blood out that’s not functioning, that’s retired.”

Abdul-Raouf Baghdadi practices Hijama at Masnad Health Clinic in the Sydney suburb of Bankstown.

He tells SBS that although wet cupping is not nationally popular, it is commonly used in Australia’s Islamic communities.

Research suggests it could be effective in treating shingles, facial paralysis, psoriasis, asthma and cervical spondylosis.  

“Most people in Australia associate cupping with traditional Chinese medicine", Baghdadi explains.

“However, the majority of our Muslim clientele associate it with prophetic medicine because it was a treatment performed and recommended by Prophet Muhammad – peace and blessings upon him (PBUH).

“Overall, it is becoming more and more popular around Western Sydney… it is also quite popular around the Arabic Muslim elders in the community, as it was a common medical practice while growing up in their motherland.”

Baghdadi, who has been using wet cupping at the clinic for over five years, says he treats around 50 patients a month with Hijama. Although most clients are Arabic, many are from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.

“We've also noticed a greater awareness within the sporting community who perform Hijama to speed up recovery,” he says.  

“As you may know there's the popular swimmer Michael Phelps and football player Sonny Bill Williams who performed Hijama. Many [people] have come in to get the therapy after hearing these athletes have done it.”

Michael Phelps' purple blotches spotlight 'cupping' trend
It wasn't just Michael Phelps' big win on Sunday that had people talking about the US swimming star. It was also the dark purple circles on his shoulders.

Hijama in practice

So how does Hijama work?

Dr Alhammoury says the process, which is similar to leech therapy, starts off with a dry cupping session. Around 20-24 cups and pumps (or heat suction) are placed on specific meridian points on the patient’s back. A mild suction is created using a cup and a pump (or heat suction) on selected areas and left for a few minutes to create a local anaesthesia effect.

The cups are then removed and superficial skin incisions are made with a small cupping scalpel. The therapist then places five to eight cups on the patient’s back and performs a second suction for a few minutes, to draw out around 500 millilitres of blood.

“When this happens, the termination of sensory nerve in the epidermis will send a message to the brain that the body is under attack and is losing blood,” Dr Alhammoury explains.  

“The brain responds by releasing plenty of endorphins in your body. It will also send signals that work to give you new red blood cells. These cells are like the bus carrying oxygen from the lungs to other cells all over the body. After blood-letting, it will carry the oxygen in a more efficient way.”

Cuts should heal after three days and there should be no scarring.

Words of caution 

Practitioners claim that wet cupping is a preventative treatment for migraines, hypertension, infertility and stress, although there has been little evidence to back up these claims.

Dr Alhammoury adds that patients should only ever get wet cupping once to twice a year. For example, healthy adults aged under 40 are advised to have only one treatment a year but smokers and people with specific health complaints can access treatment every six months. 

“The life cycle of blood cells is 120 days: four months. After that they are absorbed by the spleen and skin. So we add another two months for the filter to be full.”

She also reminds patients that wet cupping “is not a cure, but a treatment”.

Wet cupping is not recommended for healthy children, people with pacemakers and renal failure patients. 

Dr Alhammoury advises that people interested in the therapy only ever seek treatment from a trained practitioner who uses sterile, disposable blades that are not shared patient-to-patient.

Anyone on anticoagulants should stop taking their blood clotting medication 24-48 hours before a wet cupping session, in consultation with their GP.

 

Editor’s note: Alternative or complementary therapies should only be practised in consultation with your GP. 

 

The author travelled to Jordan as part of The Foreign Correspondent Study Tour. Read more stories form this series:

A herbivore’s guide to Jordan
From crisp falafel to colourful salads and stuffed breads, there are delicious options for vegetarians among Jordan's traditional foods.
How Zumba is helping Syrian refugee women to heal
Female Syrian refugees in Jordan are taking up Zumba to help them recover from the trauma of war.
The Middle East’s first self-defence gym for women
She Fighter is empowering its students through martial arts, with a mission to end domestic violence in Jordan, and a letter of approval from Barack Obama.
The Arab cooking school keeping a grandmother’s recipes alive
Three sisters have been carrying on the tradition of their grandmother’s Jordanian recipes.
Meet the people restoring Madaba’s magnificent mosaics
Jordan has a rich mosaic making tradition, dating from the Roman and Byzantine periods. There are thousands of sites, posing huge conservation challenges for a small institute charged with the job of training people to protect them.
Desert cultures connect through art
A small gallery in Amman offers locals and tourists a glimpse into contemporary Australian and Jordanian art.
Breaking down cultural barriers through skateboarding
Jordan’s first skate park is building human connections between Jordanian youth and young refugees.

Ancient remedies revival
This New Zealand mum is putting ancient Māori medicine into modern practice
Through her Māori heritage, Michele Wilson learned to forage for medicinal herbs.
The ancient and beautiful art of traditional Japanese tattoos
A new exhibition shines a spotlight on Japanese tattoo and its often overlooked status as a genuine art form which dates back hundreds of years.
Not just cupping: 6 strange fads used by Olympic athletes
Athletes are vulnerable to products claiming to give them an edge – even if there’s no evidence supporting the efficacy.
Bali's traditional medicine people: Ancient healers in a modern world
Indigenous healers are still the first port of call for many Balinese when they fall ill. The island's ancient healers also attract spiritual tourists, who hope to cure their ailments that have stumped Western medicine. Here's what to expect.
From chrome plating to nanotubes: the ‘modern’ chemistry first used in ancient times
Some scientific methods that we perceive to be modern were actually devised by brilliant people in ancient civilisations, writes chemist Mark Lorch.

The Foreign Correspondent Study Tour is a joint UTS and Swinburne University project, supported by the Commonwealth through the Council for Australian-Arab Relations, which is part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.