Is Massage Cupping Right for You?

In 2016, some Olympic athletes, primarily Michael Phelps, brought cupping to the attention of millions of people.  Athletes proudly sported red, bruised-looking circles, evidence of cupping massage.   It became a greatly requested technique and massage therapists everywhere rushed to train in massage cupping in order to be able to offer this modality to their clients.

Massage cupping is not new to the massage industry; the exact origin is unknown and it is considered to be an ancient Chinese therapy.  There are written records dating back to 28 AD and there is a traditional Chinese saying which indicated “acupuncture and cupping, more than half the ills cured”.

The lack of movement of fluids through the body is considered in traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to be the root cause of pain and other health issues.  Cupping is intended to get fluids moving through the body.  It lifts and separates layers allowing fluids to begin flowing more freely.

So exactly what is massage cupping?

Massage cupping is a form of vacuum therapy.  There are different types of massage cupping, such as fire cupping, wet cupping or dynamic cupping, to name a few.  One website lists up to 10 different types of cupping therapy techniques (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2225411014000509).

The type I would like to discuss today is massage cupping or dynamic cupping.  It is also sometimes referred to as gliding.

The object of cupping is to draw more blood to the surface of the skin.  The intended effect is get fluids moving through the body.  It lifts and separates layers allowing fluids to begin flowing more freely. 

This is accomplished by placing massage cups on the body and pulling the air out with a hand operated or machine pump.  This suction on the body’s surface creates a vacuum, which pulls the layers of skin and fascia up into the cup.  The suction reaches deep in the soft tissue and attachments. By pulling those layers up and into the cup, it can increase blood and lymphatic circulation systemically and to the local area, relaxing muscle tissue and support, drawing stagnation and toxins out of the body and releasing a myriad of pain causing factors.  The cups are then gently glided along the body.  They can also be left in a particular tight spot if needed, no more than 3 minutes, to achieve these same benefits. 

The purpose of cupping is promote health and healing by loosening soft tissue and connective tissue, scarring and adhesions, moving stagnation and increasing lymphatic flow and circulation.

Cupping will turn the skin red with strong movements, indicating that circulation has been brought to the surface.  It also helps to move lymph fluid through the body more effectively, bolstering and strengthening the immune system.  The lymphatic system can more readily eliminate toxins and inflammation from the body once it pulled to the surface of the skin.

Loosening tight and painful muscles which promote healing and relaxation is another benefit of cupping.  Cupping is also believed to help to soften scar tissues by making them more flexible and pliable, reducing pain that can be caused when the tissue is stiff after surgery.

Another purported benefit of cupping: it stimulates the nerves in the skin, which has a calming effect on the nervous system.

Cupping may also be beneficial to those suffering from respiratory ailments such as colds, asthma, allergies, or bronchitis.

So is cupping right for you?

If you have tight or hardened muscles, pain and restriction of movement, scar tissue, edema, restricted lymphatic flow and circulation, inflammation of joints and tissue, or trigger points, cupping is indicated as a potential therapy for you.

Other conditions that respond to massage cupping bodywork therapy are fibromyalgia, bursitis, tendonitis, other inflammatory conditions, sluggish colon, IBS, sciatica, insomnia, anxiety, congestion, cellulite, migraines and headaches, TMJ dysfunction, and plantar fasciitis.

I believe that massage cupping is a safe effective treatment that is good for most. 

Before I trained in the ACE massage cupping technique, a technique that was developed by Anita Shannon, (who grew up in Cleveland, fun fact), I was worried it would be painful and I would have these huge round red, looking bruises all over my body.  I learned during my training that those marks are not considered bruises but discolorations.

The ACE massage cupping technique rarely leaves discolorations on the skin, which is referred to as a “cup kiss” or a “doo-hickey”.  However, in TCM the marks that are commonly left are the desired result.  If a discoloration appears during an ACE massage cupping treatment, it’s an added bonus indicating the release of intense stagnation (body fluids and toxins) in the area.  This is not a bruise and will dissipate anywhere between a few hours and a few days.

Many people have reported that they descended into a profound state of relaxation after a cupping session and some have even reported that the experience stayed with them longer than most treatments. 

But is massage cupping right for you?  I don’t know.  You will have to experience it for yourself to make that assessment.  Just let me know when you are ready to try it.

“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?” –Vincent van Gogh