Updated: Mar 24, 2021
Maybe you’ve seen the large, red and purple circular marks on Gwyneth Paltrow’s back in her strapless Oscar’s gown; or the similarly perfect circles on Michael Phelps and other Olympic athletes during the 2016 Summer Olympic games. Cupping is a helpful holistic tool, and it’s not just for athletes and elites but accessible to everyone and has been used by Acupuncturists and bodyworkers for millennia.
Cupping therapy dates back - way back - to ancient Egypt, documented in medical textbooks from around 1550 BC. In China, cupping goes back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD) where it was used to treat poisonous bites, boils, tuberculosis and other diseases. Even in America and England, cupping was commonly used and only fell away in the 1920’s after the John D. Rockefeller took over the curriculum of all medical schools in the US and did away with all natural therapies and remedies he couldn't capitalize on with pharmaceuticals. Cupping is used all over the world as a healing therapy because the benefits still apply.
The Basics of Cups
Cupping uses actual cups made of different materials (glass, plastic, silicone, or bamboo) placed on the skin’s surface, usually following the lines of the meridians, creating an airtight environment. Either before or after placement on the body, the air is physically removed out of the cups making a vacuum, or negative pressure, inside the cup. The skin, local muscle, and connective tissue get sucked or forced into the cup with this vacuum pressure.
How Cupping Works
Cupping promotes the free flow of Qi (life energy) for what Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) refers to as stagnation. One of the symptoms of Qi stagnation according to TCM is pain. Cupping draws Qi, blood, and fluids to the area under the cup, opening the pores and encouraging toxins to exit the body through the open pores as well as dispelling Qi. There is a Chinese saying, “Where there is pain, there is no free flow. Where there is free flow, there is no pain.”
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) uses either glass or pneumatic cups. Glass cups use fire to remove the air under the cup so the cupping sticks better to the area being treated. Pneumatic cups are either glass or plastic, placed on the problem area of the body, then a pump is inserted to the top of the cup and the air is sucked out of the cup to the desired level. The equipment is very simple and easy-to-use offering the option of self-care cupping, or for a professional treatment.
How Does it Feel?
Anyone can receive cupping therapy; it is even safe for children under 5 years old (with shorter duration and the cups are placed with a lighter suction). Healthy adults and weaker elderly can receive cupping without harm and the treatments typically last only six to ten minutes. The time spent with cups can feel good -- other than a slight pulling of the skin there isn’t any pain involved, it’s very relaxing. I use cups in nearly every massage I do because they work in ways and depths my hands can't; manipulating the fascia, promoting even better lactic acid flushing and relieving tightness and tension.
They’re not actually bruises but surface discolorations, which give a visual indication of how much stagnation is in the area. They range from pink to dark purple and last longer depending on the degree of stagnation in the area. Some can be gone right after the treatment and some last up to a week, longer if someone is sick or sedentary, but they’re not painful. The end result is a softening of the muscle tissue, decreased pain, and an overall feeling of well-being.