Blog Post

Massage Cupping

We’ve all seen those marks. The circles left by cupping are unmistakable.

But what exactly IS massage cupping?
What does it do?
Why should you try it?

We will answer all of these questions and more.

What is Cupping?

Cupping involves placing a “cup” on the skin in an area of tension or pain and creating a bit of a vacuum within that cup. This results in a suctioning effect on the tissue directly beneath the cup.

Cupping is shown to help with a variety of ailments ranging from chronic aches and pains, muscle tension, scar tissue, and headaches, to stress, anxiety, depression, and even immune function.

Where did Cupping come from?

To say that Cupping has been around for a while,
and has been popular across many cultures, is an understatement.

The Papyrus Ebers, an Ancient Egyptian papyrus scroll of herbal and medical knowledge, references cupping therapies.

Traditional Chinese, Korean, Tibetan and Oriental medicines have all utilized cups for centuries. Even Hippocrates had an interest in cups and their uses,
cataloging his theories on how different sizes and styles lent themselves to different treatments.

Now, as Americans are developing more and more interest in alternative and holistic medicines,
cupping has become popular here in the States, too.

What does Massage Cupping do?

Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches that stagnation of blood and of qi (described as a vital energy or life force which flows throughout the body) is what causes pain and disease.

Cupping is said to invigorate not just blood flow within the area, but also qi.

* As qi is an intangible phenomenon, Western Medicine has yet to substantiate this assertion.

From a Western perspective, it is theorized that cupping mobilizes blood, metabolic waste, and lymph fluid that has stagnated in an area. Cupping effectively flushes the area out and creates space for fresh blood and nutrients. This results tissue relaxation, increased local metabolism, better inter-cellular communication.

There are many styles of cupping. Here at Summit Therapeutics, we practice massage cupping.

This is very similar to “dry cupping” techniques that physical therapists and other Western Med practitioners use.

We use the cups to encourage circulation, lymphatic flow, and muscular relaxation.

Other styles include:

Wet cupping – which involves lacerating the skin to actually extract blood from the area.
Fire cupping  – which using heat/cold to create the vacuum effect, instead of manually removing air from the cup

It is worth noting that these styles are NOT within the scope of practice of a massage therapist,
so make sure your practitioner is trained and appropriately licensed for the techniques they are using.
It is easy to injury people if these techniques are used incorrectly.
How does Cupping work?

Currently, a variety of studies on cupping exist. Unfortunately, many of them are not well-controlled, and most of them only examine the outcomes of the therapy, not the mechanisms by which they are achieved.

So really, we’ve learned that it works, we just don’t truly understand How, because we haven’t studied it well enough yet.

Below is a brief summary of the existing research on the benefits of cupping from the perspective of Western Medicine.

While many articles continue to admit that the physiology behind the results is still unclear; the benefits are nonetheless promising.

The Research

Cupping was found to reduce neck pain, and was also associated with improved function and quality of life [1].

A systematic review showed the benefits of cupping in the management of low back and neck pain [2].

A third review and meta-analysis came to similar conclusions. The results included lower perceived pain in participants with chronic low back and neck pain, and improved quality of life in almost all cases. In addition, some of those studies showed lower blood pressure, increased metabolism in the local tissue, and/or an increase in the local tissue’s post-treatment pain threshold [3].

All reviews acknowledged the same shortcomings:
1. A lack of standardization of the cupping technique (wet cupping, dry cupping, fire cupping, etc.),
2. Varied application length, and
3. Varied placement of cups (some were on meridian lines, others on muscular landmarks or trigger points, etc.).

It is hard to draw concrete conclusions with this lack of standardization. Nevertheless, the results are promising: Cupping works.

Still have questions?

That’s great! Questions are a wonderful thing.

We have tried to answer the most common questions below, but if yours are still unanswered, please feel free to reach out.

Can you tell me more about what a session with massage cupping “looks” like?

First, we discuss your problem areas and health history to make sure that cups are safe to use, and would help your complaints.

Second, we apply lotion or oil to the skin, much like in a normal massage.

From there, we use variety of plastic, glass, and silicone cups, depending on the situation.

Some sessions involve placing cups in an area and leaving them for a few minutes. This is great for a stubborn “knot” or restriction, where things feel “stuck.”

Alternatively, some sessions involve moving the cups around on the skin while maintaining suction. This is great for encouraging lymphatic flow and flushing  waste out of the tissues.

Those marks look painful; does Massage Cupping hurt?

Massage cupping should NEVER be painful.

We are trying to encourage your tissues to relax, and your blood to flow more freely.

We are NOT trying to force it.

To summarize, when we cause pain, we risk damaging blood and lymph vessels, kicking off inflammatory responses, and even kickback (where things tighten down and you end up even more stiff than when you came in.) None of those are good things, so we avoid them…simply by making sure that the cups are comfortable, and never painful.

You say it should never be painful, but I’ve had Cupping before and it hurt.

It is possible that you received a different style of cupping, as some are more aggressive than others, or that your massage therapist had a different philosophy than we have here at Summit.

Again, the cupping you will receive at Summit Therapeutics should NEVER be painful.

And remember, we will be working as a team, communicating regularly, to ensure that we never cross that line.

What are those marks? Are they bruises?

Commonly referred to as “Cupping Kisses,” “Healing Marks,” or even “Octopus Tentacles” these reddish/purplish marks are the result of the suction effect on the tissue.

These marks are not Bruises, or at least they shouldn’t be. Bruises are a result of damage to the blood vessels in an area.

Massage Cupping, however, should not be intense enough to damage blood vessels.

The suction effect simply pulls free-floating blood, lymph, and metabolic waste to the surface of your tissues.

*IF your marks are ever tender, it is likely that your practitioner applied too much pressure and did damage a few blood vessels, leading to bruising, and kicking off an inflammatory response. That is NOT the goal of massage cupping, and you should absolutely discuss this before your next appointment*
Infographic Courtesy of @kanpobliss
How long do the marks last?

Cupping marks will vary depending on the person and their tissue health, as well as the intensity of the cupping session.

Some marks are faint and fade within a few days, while some are darker and take longer to dissipate.

What will the session be like? How often will I need to do it?

Every body is different, so every session will vary.

That being said, guidelines recommend cupping an area for 5-10 minutes at a time, and scheduling sessions 3-10 days apart.

Multiple sessions are recommended for best results.

What are the contraindications? (When is it not safe to receive Cupping?)

There aren’t many contraindications to massage cupping, as it is one of the more gentle styles.

However, it is not advised for those with skin irritations or a high fever, and pregnant women are advised to avoid cupping on their stomach and low back.

What are the side effects of Massage Cupping?

Side effects from cupping aren’t very common.

If any do occur though, they usually happen during your treatment or immediately after.

These may include lightheadedness, dizziness, sweating, or nausea.

Drinking plenty of water before and after each session will help with this.

Now that you know what cupping is and what it can do for you, Book An Appointment today!

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