The Science of Sapping
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June 2, 2023
The Science of Sapping

EDITOR: Sapping is the traditional treatment for respiratory illnesses including colds, sinus infections. It is also used to treat various minor aches and pains in joints and tissues in the body. Sapping refers to the process of rhythmically hitting a person with sea water. While it is sometimes performed with the aid of some “bush”, it can be conducted without. However, the question remains as to the effectiveness of such a practice and whether or not it is rooted in any science.

To make a determination of whether this practice has any scientific bearing, the process must be first detailed. The process begins with the gathering of a handful of bushes, normally corilla.

Persons “getting a sap” must go into the sea water. There, the handful of bush is immersed into the water. The cupped hand containing the now wet bush and water is applied to the affected body part with rhythmic blows. Care is given to not hit too hard as to destroy the bush completely or damage the patient. This process is repeated multiple times and finished off with a good “ducking” in which the patient is submerged briefly.

Generations of Vincentians have attested to the easing of their aches and pains, profuse release of phlegm from nostrils and the ability to breathe easier. What is elusive to most is the knowledge of why sapping actually works and how.

Science theory

The theory proposed here is that the process of sapping works in two ways: percussion as a massage technique and via the benefits of sea water on the body.
Percussion is a manual massage technique characterized by the application of a rhythmical clapping motion to the affected area with a cupped hand.

Percussion technique requires the use of a cupped hand and, according to UCLA health (2023), helps distribute the thickened fascia fluid to relieve pressure and tightness. The repeated pressure thins the fluids making the fascia more pliable allowing for easier and more efficient movement. This results in the following proven scientific benefits of massage including reduced soreness, increased blood circulation, improved sleep, scar tissue breakdown, injury recovery and prevention, reduction in the symptoms of stress and anxiety and the manual loosening of phlegm when applied to the chest region.

Combining the benefits of percussion by sapping with the sea water adds another healing dimension to this tradition. Seawater contains many beneficial minerals like magnesium, zinc, sodium and iron. Taking a dip in the ocean is indeed an immersion into a mineral bath, good for the skin and mind. Another write up will discuss this in more detail. For now, be reassured that the old folks knew what they were doing when they administered a “good sap”. Let us know what your views are on the Science of Sapping.

Kathy Badenock