5 Benefits of Cupping – A Beginners Guide to Cupping
Cupping Health and Wellness
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.
Tagged with: Chinese medicine, cupping, myofascial decompression
32 Replies to “5 Benefits of Cupping – A Beginners Guide to Cupping”
Is cupping good for abdominal scars too? I know its good for muscular and dermis scarring. But how effective is it for internal scar tissue? Thank you!
Hi Cortney! I have not done cupping for internal scars, only for musculo-skeletal conditions and respiratory problems. It doesn’t mean it is not effective, I just do not have experience with it. It would make sense though because cupping breaks up cellular adhesions. I think it would also depend on the abdominal scar – whether its from c-section, or internal abdominal surgery, or from something else. Hope that helps!
I enjoyed your article, but I have a question for you. You said, “you would think it would be a painful experience. Quite the opposite. The feeling is very unique and usually very pleasant to the receiver.” I had gliding cupping done yesterday (first time ever) at my physical therapist’s office for a muscle along the side of my thigh that had become swollen due to ( I suspect) an autoimmune flare up, and it hurt a lot! My knee works considerably better today and the swelling is down also, so I am pleased with the result and will probably do it again next week, but i will expect to have considerable pain again.
Would you say the technique was perhaps wrong or maybe my idea of pain is different from yours?
Thanks Colleen! I’m really glad you saw results so quickly from cupping. Although it’s hard for me to say for sure, I would not thing your practitioner administered it wrong, especially if you got relief from it. “Pain” is a subjective experience, varying on a spectrum of intensity which varies from person to person. Most patients that I give cupping to really enjoy the sensation (may be in part because I only do cupping on people who I think really need it). There are exceptions, where sometimes it may feel too much for them that day, so I always adjust the treatments accordingly. It sounds like you are in tune with your body, and you know what treatments work for you, which is a great thing! I hope that helps 🙂
I have IT band pain after hip surgery 8 months ago. I walk a lot and pain becomes less as I walk but always have to massage with a stick-roller and wear a tight sleeve when I walk.
Can cupping help me?
Hi Willy! I think cupping would be a great option for you. It could really loosen up that IT band and muscles affected by the hip surgery. I would also recommend acupuncture or other soft tissue work like Active Release Technique. Hope that helps, let me know if you have other questions!
What is the recommendation regarding cupping as atherapy for internal abdominal adhesions?
Thanks for your question. If I may ask, What are the abdominal adhesions from ? A c-section .. or something else ? That would impact the treatment protocol I would recommend.
Julia, I live in east Texas and suffer from back pain all the time and medicine just isn’t working and honestly I’m tired of always taking medicine. I have been doing some research on cupping and the different types. I like the gliding technique in particular. I was wondering if you knew of and could recommend a good person for me to go to that is in Texas.
Hi Cierra! What part of Texas are you in? I have an alumni group I can reach out to and see if there is anyone in your area.
Is cupping good for trigger point pain?
Hi Tiffani! Yes, cupping is definitely good for trigger point pain. Your practitioner can either do stationary cups (right on the trigger point) to help loosen it up, or sliding cups (along the trigger point and surrounding muscles). In Chinese Medcicine, there is a saying, “where there is blockage, there is pain” — the cups will help move the blockage, and eliminate pain. Let me know if you have any other questions!
I had my upper left lobe removed 10/12/17 via robotic assisted thoracic surgery. I have a lot of pain under my left breast, side and left side of abdomen, as well as numbness. To compound matters, I fell two months after my surgery, 12/20/17 and cracked my third rib on my right side. I started acupuncture in mid February 2018 in hopes of lessening the pain from the nerve damage and the scar tissue. Not only did I get the needles, I also got the cupping. She has been doing it for 4 visits now, the last two times using and herb poultice after the cupping. In your opinion, is there anything more that can be done to help with the pain? I am also taking low doses of Kratom for pain management.
Hi Tracy! I apologize for the delay in response. I’m glad you are doing the cupping and acupuncture. Although I am not a nutritionist or doctor, I usually like taking supplements like Vitamin B12 / B6 for nerve issues, as well as a good fish oil and turmeric supplement for inflammation, as well as magnesium for softening muscles / preventing muscle cramps and also helping things like mood and sleep. I hope that is helpful 🙂
I had my first knee replacement surgery in Oct 2017. After 8 weeks it didn’t bend correctly so the doctor did what’s called a manipulation procedure (force bending). In that procedure she broke my femur bone by mistake. They did another replacement surgery in Dec 2017. Its been 4 months and I am healing slowing still having pain/stiffness. Can cupping still help me? Thank you. Angela.
Hi Angela! I think acupuncture would be a great adjunct to your healing process. It can help with inflammation, circulation to improve the healing response, reduce inflammation, increase range of motion, and decrease pain. I also think cupping can be a benefit – I would recommend a gentle cupping session – perhaps stationary cups versus sliding cups – and see how your body responds from there. Let me know if you have any other questions 🙂
Will cupping help my family member? She’s had 2 back surgeries and the last one left scar tissue which doctors (we’ve been to numerous ones) say there is nothing they can do. All they do is give shots to help tolerate the pain and she also lives on opiates. At least one to two times a week she’s in bed in such pain she’s in tears, but lives in pain daily.
Since the surgery was on the spine and they put in a cage to keep the vertebae open, I’m presuming the scar tissue is around that point. She also has a fire like burning in her buttox which we think is related.
Theoretically it seems that if space can be created between the tissues to create blood flow it would be good but not sure and wanted to ask you. Thank you for your time.
Thanks for the message. I’m so sorry to hear about your family member, it sounds like she is having a really hard time. I think you are correct in assuming the scar tissue is around the scar where the surgical incision was … there could also be additional scar tissue where the hardware is / cage depending on how well her body took to it. The burning sensation I also think could be related – could be pressing on a nerve or the fascia (web-like connective tissue) around that area is restricted. I think acupuncture and cupping would be a great option for her. Acupuncture stimulates the same neurotransmitters in the brain as if you are taking opiates. I am not advising to discontinue her medication without the approval from her doctor – but acupuncture can help with pain management. The cupping would also be a great option for that burning sensation. I don’t think the cupping would help too much with the internal scar tissue — the acupuncture could be helpful for that. I hope that helps 🙂
Hi Julia! I have read your article on cupping therapy and its usefulness in breaking up scar tissue and clearing blockages that allow for Qi to flow freely through the body. In this case, what do you think about using cupping therapy for blocked fallopian tubes? A month ago, I was diagnosed with blocked fallopian tubes, and I am interested in finding natural therapies that can break up and clear my tubes for conception. Do you think cupping would be beneficial for this use? Currently, I am taking a very high dose of serrapeptase, doing fertility massage and castor oil pack therapy; and I would like to add in cupping, but I just cannot find enough information or research online centered on using cupping to unblock fallopian tubes.
Hi Wendy! Sorry for the late reply, I must have missed this question. I don’t think cupping would help with that unfortunately. I’m not saying its not possible, but I’ve never seen cupping to work for blocked fallopian tubes. Hope that is helpful, and best of luck and health to you.
Hi, I have a few big keloids and scars on my back, would cupping help with that?
Hi Roma – thanks for the question. It is possible, but I don’t think cupping would help with keloid scars unfortunately. Acupuncture may be a better option for that, potentially. Hope that is helpful.
Hi julia. I have been recovering from strained muscles and swelling in erector spinae and right buttock. Have had injections for tge pain and inflammation but left with a pulling and tight pain in buttock when sitting. Could cupping help to free up the area? The area is tender when i massage it and there some tight bands in them which is sore.
Hi Shireen – I definitely think cupping could be beneficial for you. It could free up some of that stuck tissue that is causing you pain. If you haven’t already tried it, I would also recommend acupuncture. I hope that is helpful.
How many times per week or month would you recommend cupping for cellulite on the thighs and butt?
Hi Priti – I generally only use cupping for pain and sports medicine conditions as well as those suffering from chest congestion and colds. For cellulite – I don’t have much experience using it for that but I would imagine it would help because of the effect of stimulating your lymphatic system. I don’t usually cup over existing cup marks so it depends on the person – some people don’t get any cup marks and some are dark red / purple. I wait until the cup marks are back to skin color before I cup again personally. You can probably do it at least once a week – maybe twice – if your skin isn’t too sensitive. Hope that helps.
Hi! Do you think cupping would help hypertrophic scar on abdomen?
Hi Jessica, I think cupping may be a good option, especially if the scar is pretty mild. I would also recommend acupuncture as that could break up the fascial adhesions surrounding the scar.
9 years ago my son had compartment syndrome on left thigh, they did a 9″ incision all the way to the bone & scraped out the muscle tissue. He’s now got scar tissue & constant pain. Wondering if cupping would contribute to ridding the thigh of scar tissue creating more flexibility. He will not take the meds prescribed by dr, mostly narcotics & opiates.
Hi Sonja, I think cupping could be a good option for your son. I would think it would help with the pain and flexibility, especially if the scar tissue is causing restriction of movement, and if there is contributing muscle spasms and adhesions. As far as the scar itself, after 9 years I’m not sure the cupping would help with the actual scar – it’s possible but it’s hard to say for sure.
What do you think about using it for muscle tension dysphonia?
Hi Aubrie, thanks for the question. I’ve never personally used it for muscle tension dysphonia. The skin around your throat is thin and more sensitive to other parts of the body, so I’m not sure it would be the best idea. Acupuncture may be a better option for the inflammation, and it won’t leave marks like the cups would (on the front of your neck) versus somewhere like your back or stomach that could be easily hidden. I hope that helps.
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