Every few years Cupping has a moment. Images of Gwyneth Paltrow in 2004, and most recently, several athletes from the 2016 Rio Olympics including Michael Phelps, all sporting cupping marks have people curious about cupping. This article will arm you with the basics of this ancient healing modality.
What are those peculiar circular marks and do they hurt? First and foremost, they do not hurt. They may look like a bruise but they do not feel like it, actually just the opposite. Cupping feels incredible.
Cupping Therapy has its roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), however variations of this treatment were practised by ancient cultures the world over thousands of years ago.
Cupping Therapy involves placing cup(s), which can be made from a variety of materials such as glass, plastic or silicone, on the skin along the acupuncture meridians of the body and creating a vacuum by suctioning out the air using various methods. The underlying tissue is raised partially into the cup.
The purpose of cupping is to enhance circulation, help relieve pain and pull out toxins that linger in your body's tissues, basically it stimulates the flow of energy or chi according to TCM. Another way to think about cupping is that it is the inverse of massage. Rather than applying downward pressure to muscles, the suction uses pressure to pull skin, fascia and muscles upward.
Once the cups are applied, patients will feel a sensation of tautness in the area of the cup. This sensation is typically relieving and feels good. Depending on the patient’s comfort and the practitioner's assessment of the problem, cups may be moved around using a lubricating oil or cream (known as Moving Cups) or left in place without a lubricant (Fixed Cups).
The cups may remain on the body momentarily or for minutes. One popular area for cupping is the back, although cups work wonderfully on other areas such as the hamstrings and calves. It’s a phenomenal fascial release and the results are hard to mimic with other therapies.
The different colours the skin may turn as a result of fixed cupping are influenced by a patient’s state of health including any injuries, the duration the cup was on the skin and the practitioner’s manipulation. Temporary cupping marks range from light pink to red to dark purple. In contrast, moving cups rarely leave any discolouration on the skin.
Many athletes consider cupping to be their “secret weapon”, keeping them healthy and improving their performance. Tennis player Andy Murray has reportedly used cupping in conjunction with other treatments to relieve stiffness and address a back injury.
Sports recovery aside, many seek out cupping to help with pain, inflammation, blood flow, relaxation and well-being. I regularly treat muscular stiffness and pain, common colds, respiratory conditions, fertility concerns, stress, anxiety and depression with cups.
Registered Acupuncturists can perform cupping as a stand-alone treatment in 15 minutes, or incorporate it into a more comprehensive acupuncture or acupressure treatment. Although cupping is generally a safe, non-invasive therapy for children, adults and seniors, there are some contra-indications to cupping so ensure you are being treated by a qualified practitioner.
Seya Moosai-Maharaj, B.A., R.Ac