Integrative Medicine Blog

Curious About Cupping?

Liza Pollock L.Ac, M.Ac.O.M. Sunday, April 08, 2018
Istock-cupping therapy

Cupping can improve health!

Cupping is one of the modalities that acupuncturists use to improve health. Although it does date back thousands of years within the practice of Chinese Medicine, its use has also been documented in ancient Egypt, Greece, other European and Asian countries and by Native Americans. Chinese medicine is based on the concept of Qi, which roughly translates as energy or our circulating life force. Ailments and injury can disrupt the flow of both Qi and blood. Cupping is one modality, along with acupuncture and herbs, that can move stuck Qi and body fluids.

Cupping involves placing glass, silicone, or plastic cups on the skin and creating a vacuum by suctioning out the air. I often describe cupping as the opposite of massage—whereas massage is pushing into the body, cupping is pulling away. The suction pulls the skin, tissues and muscles upward, softening them. It feels very good, it is not painful, and if the suction feels too strong, it can be adjusted to relieve tightness. I often combine cupping with acupuncture into one treatment, but it can also be used alone. Adding cupping to an acupuncture treatment often allows for increased relief of symptoms and underlying issues.

The benefits of cupping include helping to: increase circulation, relieve muscle pain, tightness and headaches, promote healing from injuries, detox by stimulating lymph and blood flow, relieve respiratory issues like initial onset of a cold or flu or chest congestion, improve skin, and promote relaxation by relieving physical illnesses that result from stress and anxiety.

Depending on your comfort and the acupuncturist’s assessment of the problem, cups may be left in place or moved around with the use of oil to help them slide. They may stay on your body briefly or for several minutes at a time. Each treatment is unique to you on that particular day. One very common area to be cupped is the back and shoulders, although cups can be used anywhere on the body where a broad enough area of the skin can be accessed such as the hips, legs, arms, and even the face to relieve sinus pressure, address facial paralysis, and improve the vitality of the skin.

The treatment can cause temporary circular red marks similar to a bruise although it does not feel like a bruise. If used on the face, this will be avoided. You may have seen some of the athletes, like Michael Phelps, in the last summer Olympics with cupping marks. The discoloration can last anywhere from one day to a week. This is an indication of increased blood flow. If there is an injury or energetic blockage under the area that was cupped, this often creates more change on the surface of the skin. Sometimes the skin only turns pink during the treatment and then dissipates right after. Once the marks have cleared, the procedure can be repeated. To be cautious I generally practice a less intense treatment the first time, and then see how the patient reacts before allowing for longer amounts of time and more suction.

Cupping is not be used on patients who bleed easily and/or cannot stop bleeding, have a history of deep vein thrombosis, have skin ulcers or edema, or on patients who have active cancer that is spreading. Pregnant women should be cupped with extreme caution and never on their abdomen or lower back. Your acupuncturist will go over your health history to ensure cupping is safe for you.

If you’ve ever been curious, or wondered if cupping can help you, come give it a try!