5 Benefits of Cupping – A Beginners Guide to Cupping
Images of celebrities on red carpets such as Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow, professional & Olympic athletes, and probably people you know have been seen with the distinctive cupping marks on their backs or shoulders. What used to be a mysterious, almost scary-looking treatment is now being sought after for its numerous health benefits.
Read on to find out what it is, how it works, and if it’s something that might be right for you.
What is Cupping?
Cupping is a Chinese medicine technique that has been used for centuries for many different conditions. Glass, bamboo, or silicone cups are placed on the skin, creating a vacuum-like seal from the lack of oxygen. The superficial muscle layer is drawn up into the cup, which stimulates the circulation of blood, breaks up adhesions, and creates a pathway for toxins to be drawn out of the body through the lymphatic system. It has been found that cupping can affect tissues up to 4 inches deep; affecting blood vessels, fascia, muscles, and scar tissue.
Myofascial decompression, or MFD, is being widely used in athletic training, physical therapy, and massage therapy offices. It is essentially the same thing as cupping, and is being used in the Olympic games for pre and post-workout recovery and detoxification. It is used specifically to decompress adhesions and scar tissue, relax muscles in spasm, decrease trigger point pain, and decrease tissue changes and inflammation following trauma. Cumulative treatments increase muscle endurance, circulation, increase lymphatic drainage and enhances overall ability to recover from workouts and strenuous activity.
There are two types of cupping techniques that are the most popular: stationary and gliding cups. Stationary cups are where one or several cups are placed in the treatment zone for 5-10 minutes. Gliding cups is when a topical ointment or liniment is placed on the skin first and the cups are gently moved across the skin, usually along meridians or fascia / muscle planes. I like to use Tiger Balm (no not the kind you buy at CVS, the real stuff!) with gliding cups on tight and sore muscles – the combination is rapidly becoming a new favorite treatment in the office.
What does it feel like?
Judging by what cupping looks like, you would think it would be a painful experience. Quite the opposite. The feeling is very unique and usually very pleasant to the receiver. It feels like a gentle suction is pulling away tension and pressure from tight and painful muscles or areas of the body. Afterwards it feels like you have just received a deep tissue massage. Typically with massage you press into the tissues, whereas cupping is the opposite where you pull the tissues up.
Depending on the amount of suction and the state of the underlying tissues, it can leave circular marks that vary from a light yellow to dark purple. In Chinese medicine it is believed the darker the marks, the more stagnation of qi and blood. Stagnation leads to pain and dysfunction or imbalance within tissues, so we want to clear that stuff out before it causes problems. From a Western standpoint, cupping creates more space in between the tissue layers to get rid of dead cellular debris, excess fluids and toxins, and breaks up scar tissue. The marks are caused by this debris being pulled up and deposited under the skin; which is actually the most effective place for the lymphatic system to drain it away.
So, to recap…
What are the benefits?
1) Stimulates whole body relaxation response (parasympathetic response)
2) Stimulates oxygenation and detoxification of blood while promoting a feeling of lightness and relief of pressure
3) Detoxifies metabolic debris in muscle tissue, fascia, and skin
4) Increases range of motion, breaks up adhesions, and promotes healing in scar tissue and chronic injury sites
5) Increases lymphatic drainage & promotes circulation
- Caution for cup marks – may take a few days to a week to fade completely (Important to remember if you have a wedding or special event to attend)
- Caution in keeping area covered from extreme changes in temperature (hot sauna or cold AC) directly after a treatment. In Chinese medicine cupping opens your pores, making you susceptible to catching a cold
- Not used on the low abdomen or low back of a pregnant woman
- Not used if you have thin or damaged skin, or if you are taking blood thinners
What can it treat?
- Tight and stiff muscles
- Back pain, sciatica, piriformis syndrome, IT band pain, rotator cuff injuries, plantar fasciitis
- Respiratory conditions: asthma, bronchitis
- Emotional balance: anxiety, depression, stress, migraines
- High blood pressure by calming the nervous system
Overall, cupping is a very safe and enjoyable treatment. It is fantastic on its own or as an adjunct to acupuncture or massage therapy. I’ve found that good health is not one thing you do, but the culmination of many good habits and treatments to keep you balanced. Remember to stay curious, try something new, and enjoy the process.
Best in Health,
PS- If you would like to try cupping to see if it’s right for you, simply let me know before your next treatment and we will find a way to work it in. See you soon.