What is cupping? And why should anyone get cupped?

Cupping is a technique that practitioners of Chinese Medicine use along with acupuncture to help promote circulation and healing. This technique dates back thousands of years and has been used in many cultures throughout the centuries for healing.

It is a bit misunderstood here in the USA. People that are unfamiliar with cupping are at times horrified by the marks left from the cups, as well as mystified as why someone performs this technique in the first place. I know, because I was one of those horrified patients before I understood the reasoning behind cupping.

When I was a young dancer getting my acupuncture for all my muscular skeletal pains, strains, and tears, I was cupped for the first time by an acupuncturist that I had just started seeing. True to the Chinese style, the acupuncturist explained nothing about what was happening. All of a sudden my needles were taken out, there was this great torch of fire, and then I felt a strange suction sensation all across my back. In a short period of time the cups were removed and off I went without any explanation. “Oh well,” I thought.

That evening my husband gasped at the strange appearance of my back. When I looked in the mirror I couldn’t believe what I saw. There were dark red one-inch circle marks covering my entire back. I looked like I had been attacked by an octopus. That was my last time visiting that acupuncturist as I assumed that she must be crazy.

Cupping Explained

Now that I use and value the cupping technique, I wanted to help demystify and explain this ancient practice to the public.

I always explain and forewarn all my patients about the down time from cupping. For example, if they are going on vacation to the beach, wearing a backless dress to a function, or bikini modeling the next day, we will not do cupping that session. Although Gwyneth Paltrow did showed off her cup marks on the red carpet wearing a backless dress.

Cupping is a technique that uses small glass cups (most often) as suction devices that are placed directly on the skin. “Fire cupping” is the technique that I learned in college and that I use to this day. This is done by using the flame of an alcohol soaked cotton ball to create a vacuum within the cup. When the vacuum is created, the cup is quickly placed on the areas that are to be treated.

The number of cups used is dictated on the size of the areas treated. When I am treating the back for pain and spasms it is not uncommon to have as many as six to eight cups placed on the patient’s back at one time. Cups can be placed and left static for 5 to 10 minutes, or can be moved in a sliding technique up and down the area needing treatment.

Why Cup?

Cupping brings the skin, superficial muscle, and fascial layer of tissue lightly up into the cups. Cupping then becomes an inverse massage. Rather than the downward pressure of message it uses gentle pressure to pull the muscular and facial tissue upwards facilitating the healing process. The suction and negative pressure provided by cupping can loosen muscles, increase blood flow, relax the nervous system and increase lymph drainage.

Cupping is one of the best deep-tissue therapies available as it can effect tissues up to four inches deep from the surface of the skin. This encourages toxins trapped in the tissues and blood vessels to be cleared, and relax and improve function of the muscles and internal organs.

Cupping is the choice of treatment for:
• muscle pain and spasms
• neck and shoulder pain
• mid to low back pain
• sciatic and hip pain
• calf or hamstring pain and spasms
• coughs and asthma
• general relaxation

Cupping can be a valuable addition to your treatments. So the next time you have pain, ask to be cupped like Gwyneth!