Cupping is an ancient form of therapy and used in traditional Chinese medicine. It involves the application of small vacuum jars to the surface of the skin. Cupping increases Qi and blood flow to the area where the cups are placed, relieving pain and inflammation, as well as stimulating well-being and relaxation. From a Chinese medicine perspective, when Qi and blood are obstructed and becomes stagnant, pain and dysfunction results. Although cupping is very trendy these days, it’s not new. It dates back to ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern cultures.

What are some of the conditions successfully treated by cupping?
Acute and chronic pain. It can release myofascial tissue which can become tight and restrict movement of muscles, causing muscle tension and spasm. Respiratory conditions like asthma and common cold. It is used to break up stubborn phlegm in the lungs. It is often used at the first signs of a cold, to either prevent it, or if it has already set in, speed up recovery. Cupping on the lower back helps prevent and alleviate menstrual cramping. Headaches of various origins and types can be alleviated. Cupping has a sedating and soothing effect on the nervous system. It can help stress and anxiety and lower blood pressure.

Fire cupping vs vacuum cupping: Fire cupping is a more traditional method of cupping, using glass cups. By introducing a flame into the glass cup, a vacuum is created within, allowing the cup to be painlessly attached to the skin, which acts as a suction to draw out toxins. The fire is believed to create an excellent suction. The heat can also be nourishing to patients who are drained and tired. In Chinese medicine, this heat is believed to remove cold/dampness in the body, which can contribute to pain.
A more modern version of cupping is called vacuum cupping, which typically uses plastic cups. The cups are applied to the skin using suction handles, which allow the practitioner to control the level of suction used. This is more beneficial when treating areas on the body such as knees and shoulders. Although I tend to use glass cups more often than plastic cups, I think plastic cups are a great option.

What can I expect during a cupping treatment?
Cupping is usually performed as part of an acupuncture treatment, or occasionally it can be done on its own. The cups are normally set in place from between 5 to 10 minutes. If indicated the cups will be removed and placed at different locations. The cups may be moved over the surface of the skin, using oil as a lubricant, for a deep-tissue massage. This is called “sliding cupping”. During treatment the cups should feel tight, but not painful. The first time may feel strange, like anything new, but after that most patients report it feels awesome.

What can I expect after cupping?
You may feel relaxed, refreshed, more mobile, less stiff, and with less or no pain in the area treated. The skin will probably turn red at the cupping sites, as the blood vessels respond to the change in pressure. This is perfectly normal. Darker red marks after cupping means there is more Qi and blood stagnation in the area compared to lighter red marks. With continued follow-up treatments you should see the marks becoming lighter red after each treatment. That is a good sign and a move in the direction of healing. Any mild bruising or other marks should go away within two to twelve days. After treatment, you may also have mild pain or irritation at the cupping sites. Shortly after your session you might also feel lightheaded. Drink plenty of water after cupping. Avoid alcohol, swimming, showering or bathing immediately after cupping. Keep the area that was cupped covered and warm.