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Cupping: An Ancient Technique for the Modern World

Updated: Dec 18, 2019

Cupping has been practiced in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for over 3,000 years and today, cupping is regularly used in over 60 countries.

What is Cupping?

There are several theories on the mechanisms of cupping. These can be divided into a medical approach which discusses the movement of blood, lymphatic fluid, and nutrients on muscle and connective tissue, also known as fascia. A more traditional approach discusses the concept of qi, pronounced “chi”, which in TCM loosely translates into energy.

To understand how cupping works it is important to appreciate how healthy muscle and fascia function. Fascia surrounds muscle and is meant to allow muscles to move more freely and slide against each other easily throughout their range of motion. Fascia, like muscle, can become damaged in a variety of ways including: overuse, inflammation, infection, injury, or the outcome of being sedentary for long periods. When fascia is damaged, it can become thick, stiff and inflexible. Over the long term this creates areas of adhesions, resulting in pain, stiffness and limited range of motion.

Cupping has a vacuum like effect which decompresses the muscle and fascia and brings nutrients, new blood and fluids into the area, while simultaneously drawing out waste products and what Acupuncturists refer to as stagnant blood and fluid. The tissue underneath the cup, instead of having less space between the fibers, is now more expansive which promotes greater permeability of blood to the muscle tissue. This results in a better nourished tissue, allowing muscles to move more freely.

In addition to muscular health, Cupping exerts a positive effect on regulating the immune system and controlling inflammatory processes.

Types of Cupping

Historically, the cups used in Cupping were made of bamboo, glass or earthenware. Today, your therapist may use glass fire, glass suction or silicone cups.

The glass fire cups are the traditional method which use heat to create the vacuum when it is briefly placed into the cup. This also warms the cup up a little. The glass suction and silicone cups, do not use heat. The silicone cups are squeezed and placed on the skin and create a suction as they return to their original shape.

All of the above 3 styles of cups can be used on tight areas of the body. They can be placed in a stationery fashion and are set to target and release the muscle and fascia of the body. Alternatively, with application of lotion onto the skin, the therapist may slide cups along the tissue and work a larger area of the body (slide cupping).

What to Expect During a Cupping Treatment

The therapist may slide the cups along the tissue, use flash cupping (short duration placement and removal of cups) or place the cups in particular areas for 5-10 minutes. The method of treatment will depend on the condition being addressed.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are the Circular Cupping Marks Bruises?

Although circular Cupping marks may look like bruises, they are quite different. Bruises result from an injury to the soft tissue, usually in the form of trauma. When blood vessels are broken, the tissue becomes damaged. The resultant bruises can be painful to touch and will often turn different colors, such as green or yellow.

A cupping mark is not a bruise, it is not painful to the touch and will simply fade away over time. Cupping marks can be purple, purple-brown, a light blue and sometimes hardly any color. Each cupping mark is an expression of the underlying condition of the tissue.

Not everyone gets cupping marks. The only time marks appear is if there are tight restricted areas with a buildup of stagnant fluid and blood. Cupping marks will not appear on tissue that is healthy and open to the exchange of fluid, blood and gasses and all the cellular respiration that occurs in healthy tissue.

The cupping marks generally fade away within 3-7 days; sometimes it takes longer. If there are areas you do not want cupped, due to an upcoming social engagement, please advise your therapist.

Is Cupping Painful?

As a general rule, cupping should be painless and feel relaxing. The area that has been cupped will often feel more comfortable, looser and less restricted after treatment.

In general, Cupping is considered to be safe for healthy people when performed by a trained and skilled therapist. It is possible to put the cups on too tightly and create pain; however, any skilled therapist knows how to finely adjust the vacuum in the cups.

How Can Cupping Help Me?

Cupping can address general musculoskeletal concerns: joint pain, tight muscles, areas with pain and trigger points. Cupping benefits athletes, and individuals who spend hours in front of the keyboard or have postural imbalances. Cupping can help alleviate headaches, migraines, improve digestive problems and skin disorders.

Cupping reduces restrictions, adhesions and softens scar tissue, whether the scars are the result of surgery, C-sections, injury, or trauma.

Used correctly cupping can be helpful for menstrual pain, fertility issues, acute and chronic coughs, non-acute asthma, early stages of the common cold, shingles and so much more.

The current research indicates that cupping can be a very safe and powerful approach. Nevertheless, cupping should not be performed on individuals with particular underlying and serious health conditions, existing bruising or skin infections. Also, Cupping should never be replaced for conventional treatment or standard medical care from your General Physician.

Where to Get Cupping

All Acupuncturists are trained in cupping, as are some Massage Therapists and Physical Therapists. If you would like to learn more about Cupping or would like to find out if it can help you, please contact:

Mary Clark, LAc. #932, LMBT #16220 Raleigh Health & Wellness Center 8380 Six Forks Road, Suite 203 Raleigh, NC 27615 Email: Web: Phone: 919-909-5736

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