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  • Writer's pictureJamie Truba-Whaley

What is Cupping?

Updated: Nov 20, 2019

Therapeutic cupping uses negative pressure (suction) created within silicone, plastic or glass cups which are attached to the body.  The cups can be moved continuously to provide a massage or left in one place for a length of time (1-20 minutes). 

What Does It Do?

The negative pressure lifts the skin and everything below it as well (muscles, connective tissue/fascia, adipose tissue/fat, blood vessels, lymph, fluids and nerve supplies).  This lifting-action releases tight, rigid, soft tissue (think “knots”, trigger points, scar tissue) and increases blood flow to these areas, allowing the body to more efficiently heal itself.  It also activates the secretion of synovial fluid within joints in a way that is not possible using the pressure of traditional massage; this fluid secretion is very helpful in releasing joint stiffness.

Negative pressure also provides the best form of lymphatic drainage available.  Edema, which is a condition of fluids and lymph being trapped within areas of the body, is cleared comfortably and effectively. Negative pressure also helps move mucus out of the sinuses and is an amazingly gentle and effective way to provide comfort and relief from congestion. Applying and removing the cups rhythmically and rapidly along the back creates a deep vibration which can help loosen chest congestion and ease labored breathing. This technique has been used extensively for asthma and pneumonia. It is similar to and more effective than tapotement (tah-poh-teh-mont) which is a rapid thumping movement of the therapist’s hands against the body.

The pulling action of the cups also very effectively engages the parasympathetic nervous system.  This system lets us relax deeply, when it is allowed to freely operate. (The sympathetic nervous system is what gears us up … think ‘fight or flight’ stress response, wired-up.  When it becomes dominant, we begin to feel exhausted and in need of ‘winding down’ … i.e., time for a massage and therapeutic cupping session!)

Who Came Up With This Treatment?

Cupping is the oldest and most globally practiced treatment in human history, with the earliest cups being made from gourds and animal horns.  A small hole was placed in the more pointed end of the hollowed gourd or horn so the air could be sucked out.  A piece of beeswax or other gummy substance would then be placed over the hole to maintain the suction.  Snakebites and infections were drained in this way. Over time and with increasing knowledge of how the body works, cupping came to be used in many additional ways to help the body heal itself from far more than infected wounds. Hippocrates, one of the most celebrated originators of modern medicine (physicians take the ‘Hippocratic Oath’), was a huge advocate of the tremendous benefits derived from cupping.  He recommended the use of cups for a variety of ailments and often chastised other physicians who did not use cupping for healing.

So Why Haven’t We Heard Of This Before?

Like most hands-on treatments, cupping fell out of favor when modern medicine began focusing on treating the inside of the body through pharmaceuticals and surgical procedures in preference to treatments focused outside of the body.  Pharmaceuticals and surgery absolutely do have their place, and we all know people, perhaps ourselves, who have benefitted immensely from these forms of treatment.  Thankfully, though, the vision of what is helpful and healing to the body has begun to widen. Time-honored methods that have been called “alternative” (massage, cupping therapy, and others) are being re-acknowledged as beneficial and are now called “complementary” methods, an indication of their efficacy and increasing re-acceptance.

This Is Interesting, But What About The Marks?

When cups are left in one place for a length of time (1-20 minutes), red-purplish round marks can appear.  (Michael Phelps and many other athletes sported these markings in the 2014 Olympics.) These marks are not bruises, nor do they feel like bruises.  A bruise comes from tissue that has been damaged from over-compression causing capillaries and small blood vessels to burst.  Cupping does not compress, so it does not cause bruising.  The negative pressure pulls fluids, including blood, up to the surface of the skin; this is what causes the marking. Typically, the darkest spots appear in the areas where the most pain or tension was complained of prior to placing the cup.  This discoloration is a good sign that the area which was hurting now has fresh blood and fluid flowing through it, and any debris or fluids that had stagnated within the tight tissue have been pulled up and dispersed so that the circulatory systems can clear it. There may be some slight sensitivity in the area of the discoloration, but it is not painful like a bruise.  Generally, the more hydrated and active a person is, the quicker the body can flush the raised fluids out, which clears the discoloration. 

Most people are leery of having marks, especially if they have not received a cupping treatment before.  In this case, cupping massage is a great way to introduce yourself to the benefits of cupping.  Cupping massage involves the use of one or two cups kept in almost constant motion over the area being treated.  The back is a great place to start.  The lifting action will create a sensation of warmth and relaxation, and the skin will acquire a pink color for a short period of time, but there are no specific marks left on the skin.  Generally, once the sensation is familiar and the benefits of even this simple treatment are felt, people are willing to try stationary cup placement over areas of more precise pain, such as shoulders, hips, hamstrings and lower legs.  While the best results are usually received through cumulative treatments, a single treatment can provide amazing results!

Treatments start gently with the amount of negative pressure and time, and both are increased as your comfort and tolerance permits, either within a single session or over a series of sessions.

Can Anyone Receive Cupping Therapy?

Most people can receive some form of cupping therapy, particularly cupping massage. 

Pregnant women can receive cupping therapy with avoidance of the abdominal area and sacrum.  If you are pregnant and new to cupping therapy, it is best to wait until the 2nd trimester to introduce this new therapy to your body; it has been adapting to a lot of changes already in that 1st trimester! If you are breastfeeding and cupping is a new treatment for you, have 2-3 days of milk expressed before receiving treatment, and be sure to begin hydrating well a few days for before treatment.  Post-pone breastfeeding for 2-3 days for the first 3-4 treatments.

Specific areas may need to be avoided, such as for broken bones, dislocations, hernias, slipped discs, 3D varicosities, areas of skin that are injured, sunburned, ruptured, ulcerated or inflamed, acute stages of psoriasis, eczema, rosacea, hives, herpes, shingles, skin cancers or recent surgical sites.

Cups will not be glided over skin tags or raised moles.

People on blood thinners, hemophiliacs, those with high or low blood pressure and diabetics may receive cupping treatments.  The sessions will start very gently and progress as you report good results. 

Cupping therapy is not appropriate for those currently undergoing cancer therapies, or those with liver or kidney functional illness, cardiopathy, or systemic cancers.

Certain cups have strong magnets within them.  These are not suitable for anyone with pacemakers, insulin monitors or ferrous (iron) joints, bone replacements (rods) or plates.

Be sure to let your therapist know if you have any of these conditions. 

I’m Willing To Give It A Try, How Do I Sign Up?

A “Cupping Therapy Client Release Form” is available below for you to read through.  A copy will be provided for you to fill out at the office during your scheduled appointment. Cupping therapy can be incorporated into sessions 30-minutes or longer in duration.

Do I Need To Do Anything Special To Prepare For The Session?

Be sure to be hydrated.  Increasing your water intake 3-4 days prior to your session is best, but even having a bottle of water beforehand is helpful. Your body needs additional fluids to help clear any congested or stagnated materials that become released from chronically tight tissues and muscles. 

It is possible that your body can have an immune response to the release of these materials, giving you flu-like symptoms such as nausea, headache and body aches; these will subside with rest and water.  This response is not typical but is not unusual.  Adequate hydration will lessen the effects and quicken the alleviation of any discomfort.

Make sure you are not overly full nor overly hungry.  A light snack is appropriate prior to the session if you are feeling hungry.  Avoid caffeine, alcohol, sugary foods and drinks, dairy and processed meats prior to the session.  Healthy food and beverage intake will support your body in feeling better during and after the session.

Do not receive any skin treatments (shaving, exfoliation, chemical treatments, etc.) prior to or immediately following your cupping therapy.  Wait at least 4 hours, preferably 24 hours, before commencing additional treatments to your skin.

What About After the Session?

Your body will be very busy clearing various fluids and cellular waste products from your system, even with a gentle cupping massage.  You will most likely feel quite relaxed after your session.  Treat yourself as gently as you can while you move through the rest of your day.

Give yourself at least 4-6 hours, preferably 24 hours, before engaging in strenuous activity.  Keep comfortably warm, avoid drafts and overly hot conditions.  Drink water, and enjoy feeling more at ease and relaxed.

What If I Need More Information?

I would love to answer your questions! Please email or call me. I’ll add the questions and responses to this website for you and others to read. I hope to have the opportunity to work with you soon!

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