What is Cupping Therapy?
Cupping therapy uses hand-held cups applied to the skin and soft tissue – in other words, to the upper layers of muscle and fascia – to lift and separate the tissues.
Blood and lymph then flow more freely between these layers, promoting healing and muscular health.
The cups vary in size depending on the area being treated. In the dry cupping technique that we use at Body Poets, the suction is controlled with a manual pump that attaches to the cups, so the level of suction will vary depending on the goals of the treatment and the client’s comfort.
There are several forms of cupping, including glass or fire cupping, wet cupping, magnetic cupping, and the above-mentioned massage (or dry) cupping. Glass or fire cupping uses glass cups and creates suction using an alcohol-soaked cotton ball ignited and placed under the cup. While the air cools in the cup it creates a vacuum and the cup suctions to the skin. In wet cupping, the therapist makes tiny incisions in the skin, places the cup over the incisions, and applies suction (fire or manual) until blood pools in the cup. This technique is an ancient form of therapy designed to ‘bleed-out’ toxins from the body. Magnetic cupping is a modern cupping style that uses positive and negative polarities to affect the energy (chi) flow in the body. Magnetic cupping is used to decrease joint pain and to have a positive systemic effect.
Benefits of Cupping Massage
Removes Stagnation: Over time the tissues of certain areas of our body become tight, ‘knotted’, or even ‘sticky’. The many layers under the skin, including connective tissue (fascia), muscles, blood vessels, nerves, etc., can become adhered with use, injury, or postural imbalances. This can impede the natural flow of blood and lymph, which both nourishes and detoxifies muscles and organs. Stagnation occurs in these ‘sticky’ areas, where old blood and lymph pool because they have nowhere to go. With suction therapy, we can increase the space between these layers, bringing the stagnant blood to the surface to be naturally removed by the lymphatic system. Removing stagnation and increasing new blood flow to the area promotes healthier and happier muscles, tissues, and organs. It truly has a full-body effect.
- Increases range of motion
- Decreases muscle soreness and trigger points
- Stimulates the lymphatic system
- Promotes healing
- Decreases fascial restrictions and helps runners, swimmers, and other athletes to better performance
- Can have a deep, relaxing effect
Cupping and Massage Therapy
Cupping pairs beautifully with massage, and is used harmoniously during a treatment. Cups can be placed on one part of the body, while massage is applied to another. There are several ways that the RMT will use cups, depending on treatment goals and client comfort. Flowing and light techniques are used to pump fluid out of an area, to promote manual lymph drainage and decrease swelling. Using a light suction, cups can be lifted and glided through bigger muscle groups. For stubborn knots or trigger points, a cup can simply be placed on the area for 5-10 minutes, with the spot being gently massaged afterwards to promote the removal of stagnation and diminish the trigger point.
Besides the confused looks I get at Nordic Nature Spa after a cupping treatment…
On top of the benefits of removing stagnation and promoting a healthy lymphatic system, I love the positive effects on the fascial network. Our bodies have an intricate web of fascia (connective tissue) that surrounds and supports our muscles and organs. It also forms sheaths that firmly attaches large groups of muscles to our bones. As we all have our natural body tendencies, daily postures, and activities, this system easily becomes imbalanced. This directly affects the muscles and organs that this system supports. Applying cups to areas where there is a large amount of fascia (such as the low back) creates a freedom of movement like no other. For example, working cups over the hips, glutes, ITBs, and massaging the hip flexors can increase the natural movement of the hips, making you feel as if you can high-kick (even if you couldn’t before!).*
*Body Poets will not be held responsible for ‘high-kick’ related injuries. Please high-kick responsibly and at your own discretion!
Cupping is a great tool to use with massage to add a certain almost indescribable lightness and “Je ne sais quoi…” to your treatment. But I truly believe that most conditions that can be treated with massage, can benefit from the use of massage cupping therapy.
“I’ve seen the big, scary bruises left on the skin after cupping, does it hurt?”
No, in fact, these bruises are completely painless. They have a much less-scary name: we say “cup-kiss” (doesn’t that sound nicer than BRUISE?). The marks are painless, and occur because of the blood that was brought to the surface during the cupping treatment. Areas that had more stagnation or “bad blood” (insert Taylor Swift reference) tend to leave darker marks – I see these as areas that really needed to get un-stuck. These “cup-kisses” can last around 3-4 days after a treatment.
Fun fact: many celebrities and athletes have been seen at public events with cup-kisses, including Jennifer Aniston and Michael Phelps.
“Is a cupping treatment painful?”
Easy answer: no. Just as in any other kind of massage, your therapist will check in with you to ensure you are comfortable with the level of intensity. In this case, it will be the intensity of the suction being applied. Those whose health or preference require a lighter treatment will still experience cupping’s benefits, and a light treatment delivers lymphatic stimulation, a full-body effect, and is deeply relaxing.
Those seeking a deeper, or sports-style treatment, can expect a certain amount of pain (we call this “good pain”*) but we will always work within the client’s comfort level.
*”good pain is good, bad pain is bad”
Good pain might make you want to swear at your therapist (this is okay to do if you’re being treated by Andrew), but you know that it will feel awesome after, and you’ll get that relieving factor that makes it all worthwhile!
Even for someone seeking a deeper style of treatment, at times a lighter suction will be appropriate during a treatment to achieve some goals.
“Will my insurance cover a cupping treatment?”
If your insurance already covers massage with a registered massage therapist, then you will have no problems claiming a cupping treatment, as it is included in the massage therapy Scope of Practice and is therefore considered to be massage therapy when performed by an RMT. As with any massage by a registered therapist, you will receive a receipt for massage therapy at the end of your treatment.
“Do you do wet cupping (with incisions or needles)?”
No, it is not in a massage therapist’s Scope of Practice to provide this service.
After Your Cupping Treatment
- Keep well hydrated
- Take a 24-hour break from exercise
- Stay warm but not too warm for the next 4 – 6 hours
- Use only warm water for bathing (avoid hot and cold temps)
- Don’t get any other bodywork for 48 hours as this could overload your system or complicate the work that was done
- “Cup Kisses” show where old blood is trapped in the tissue and will usually fade in 1-4 days
- A burning sensation shows where fascial adhesions are loosening or where tissue is getting renewed blood flow
- Pay attention to what your body tells you – are you tired, alert, hungry, thirsty, breathing better, in less pain, with more endurance or shorter recovery time in athletics? All these things can educate you about your body and its needs
Contraindications (Reasons not to have cupping therapy)
Local contraindications (cupping cannot be performed on these areas)
- Varicose veins
- Bruises, cuts, or abrasions
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure
- Cardiovascular conditions (thrombosis, phlebitis, hypertension, heart conditions)
- Skin diseases
- Neuritis (nerve inflammation or pain)
- Contagious diseases (cold/flu)
If you are curious about cupping therapy, but are not sure if it is for you, your therapist can start by using a small number of cups in your first treatment. You can assess the results and discuss with your RMT whether cupping will be something you’d like to use more of in your treatments.