So you’ve all heard of this mysterious cupping, or maybe in conversation you’ve heard me raving about it. Some famous folks like Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps allowed the world to see publicly what we do in our clinics with this mysterious cupping, and it probably looked scary (similar to Gua Sha if you read my other entry). In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we are trained in multiple types of therapies like this, not just acupuncture, and we generally use them only when they are indicated – which means that if it’s not appropriate for you, then we don’t do it (which is great for you! “Do no harm” is hopefully in your health care practitioner’s first line of integrity). However, I do cup a majority of my patients, even if it’s not “indicated” that they have a great need for it. Why is that? And what is cupping really anyway?
Cupping is the placing of a circular, usually glass, cup on the skin either with suction from heat, a pump or if it’s silicon we squeeze it, which creates a suction on the part of the body that you’re using it on. It brings circulation to the area by pulling the skin up (rather than pushing down and into the body of the tissue like massage therapists to), opening some of the capillaries under the skin which then turns pink or red to purple. This sounds terrible but it’s actually amazing! By pulling the skin up and suctioning it into these little cups, you are bringing circulation to this vascularized tissue, which means that attention is brought to that area through blood, which also means oxygen! Fascial adhesions can break up and the tissues can heal because it is distributing these fluids better in the body. How cool is that!!
The most common thing that cupping is used for is neck, back and shoulder pain where the musculature is very tight. There are many types of cupping – and I said we use glass, but there are plastic and silicon cups too. There are a few main types of cupping: dry, wet (bleeding), moving and flash cupping.
Dry: placing the cups in stationary positions on the skin and leaving them for an appropriate amount of time (determined by me and your skin!). We can do this with glass, plastic and silicon cups.
Wet (bleeding): the skin is broken or pricked and a cup is placed on top to draw out stagnant blood. There have been studies showing this type of therapy to be amazing for herpes zoster and other diseases where a lot of stagnant blood has accumulated from illness or injury.
Moving: oil or cream is placed on the skin to help the cups slide; the cups are placed and are moved around. I typically do this up and down the paraspinal muscles and along the tops of the shoulders.
Flash cupping: usually done with glass cups that we warm up – I will place the cup quickly and release it and do this several times over an area.
I most commonly use dry and moving cupping. If appropriate, I will use light moving cupping down the back, neck and shoulders to relieve tension and stress. Coughs and the beginning of a cold or flu can receive benefit by this, and cupping can sometimes help relieve concerns of digestion or constipation, facial tension like TMJ, sinus congestion and lymphatic congestion.
Cupping usually feels fairly comfortable, unless you have a lot of built up stagnation and tightness in that tissue, then it can be kind of intense for a few minutes until your nervous system relaxes. I personally, even in this state, really love the feeling because it feels like a release! There may be tenderness after the cupping for a couple of days, and a few light red to dark purple marks left for about a week after.
If you’re curious about this, contact me and we can talk about scheduling a mini-session or come in for a full acupuncture session and we can add this in!