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  • Jana Wheeler

All About Massage Cupping (and is it for you?)

Massage cupping, or just ‘cupping’ crops up in the news and celebrity pages every now and again, as there are some well-known fans of this treatment, which is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) techniques.

It’s a massage technique that’s becoming popular in spas and clinics over the country, and it’s one that can be really great for your overall health. Its popularity peaked after Michael Phelps won a gold medal in 2016, and pictures of his arms and shoulders full of cupping marks made it all over the news.

So, what exactly is massage cupping?

It’s a healing therapy which was developed thousands of years ago, and involves placing glass, bamboo, silicone or plastic jars onto your skin, creating a vacuum which sucks the tissue underneath into the jar. The suction is designed to help boost circulation, relieve pain, and help to stimulate removal of toxins.

Despite having the word ‘massage’ in its name, it’s actually the opposite of normal massage. In traditional massage, a therapist will apply different types of pressure to your muscles and connective tissues. With cupping, the therapist uses suction instead, which pulls skin, muscles and tissues upwards.

What happens during a massage cupping treatment?

Cupping works well on fleshier areas of the body so it’s common for a treatment to involve the back. It’s supposed to be pleasant and relaxing so you shouldn’t feel any discomfort. As the cup is placed on your body, you may feel a tightening sensation, but if you do start to feel any discomfort at all, your therapist will move the cups around elsewhere. Depending on the reason for your treatment, the cups are left in place for varying amounts of time. A cupping treatment is unique to your needs on the day you have it, so your ‘routine’ may well change as different health needs arise.

After a cupping session, your skin may turn red, purple or blue – it depends on the circulation and how your tissue is built up. This is actually a histamine response, not just a “regular” bruise, and is part of the natural healing response. It usually only lasts a few days but it can last longer, even up to a few weeks for some people, but it shouldn’t hurt. Once the marks have disappeared, you can have another session, until the health issue you’ve been treating is resolved.

Are there different types of massage cupping?

Yes, there are a few different methods, but the two you’ll be most likely to come across are fixed cupping and moving cupping.

In fixed cupping, the cups are placed on one area of your body and not moved once they are in place.

Moving cupping has more of a massage element as the therapist will use massage oil or cream along with the cups, placing the cups over the areas to be treated and then sliding them around – this type of session is often used for a back treatment.

What's the point of cupping?

If you imagine a muscle knot as fibers that are stuck together, there are several ways to loosen that up. A “regular” massage breaks up the tissue by putting pressure ON that spot. Cupping does the opposite – it pulls the tissue apart and creates space between the layers. One advantage is that cupping can be used on areas that would otherwise not be safe to put pressure on, like on top of the spine.

Cupping has also been used for:

• Stress and/or anxiety

• Pain – especially back pain

• Allergies

• Fatigue

• Colds and flu

• Muscle aches and pains

Note: This is a list of areas cupping has been used for – which is not the same as scientific proof that it is an effective treatment. Studies focus mostly on pain and muscle tension, with some hopeful results especially in the rehab and athletic sector. It should not be used instead of medical treatment for anything.

So how do I know if cupping is right for me?

Honestly: Just try it out! It’s very common to not get cupping done on the whole body, but only as a “spot treatment”. You can try it just on the back, the shoulders, the legs… and if it feels uncomfortable, just let your therapist know and they’ll remove the cups and switch back to a more “regular” massage. And leaving the cups on one part of the body while the therapist works on a different area doesn’t really use up much time – so you don’t have to worry about “wasting” precious session time on a treatment that you’re not sure about. So far, there are no side effects anyone knows about (as long as you speak up as soon as you feel discomfort), so if you have an issue that’s tough to resolve, or you’re simply curious, you’re not risking anything.

Just ask at your next appointment. In this office, there’s no extra charge. Obviously, if you go somewhere else that does cupping, check with them prior to scheduling. 😊


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