• Sue Williams

Cupping: Are the bruises worth the benefits?

Maybe you’ve seen the large circular bruises on Gwyneth Paltrow’s back in her strapless Oscar’s gown; or the similarly perfect circles on Michael Phelps and other Olympic athletes during the 2016 Summer Olympic games. Cupping is a helpful holistic tool, and it’s not just for athletes and elites but accessible to everyone and has been used in medicinal settings for millenia.


Cupping therapy dates back - way back - to ancient Egypt, documented in medical textbooks from around 1550 BC. In China, cupping goes back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD) where it was used to treat poisonous bites, boils, tuberculosis and other diseases. Even in America and England, cupping was commonly used and only fell away in the 1920’s. Cupping is used all over the world as a healing therapy because the benefits still apply.

The Basics of Cups

Cupping uses actual cups made of different materials (glass, plastic, silicone, or bamboo) placed on the skin’s surface, usually following the lines of the meridians, creating an airtight environment. Either before or after placement on the body, the air is physically removed out of the cups making a vacuum, or negative pressure, inside the cup. The skin, local muscle, and connective tissue get sucked or forced into the cup with this vacuum pressure.

How Cupping Works

Cupping promotes the free flow of Qi (life energy) for what Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) refers to as stagnation. One of the symptoms of Qi stagnation according to TCM is pain. Cupping draws Qi, blood, and fluids to the area under the cup, opening the pores and encouraging toxins to exit the body through the open pores as well as dispelling Qi. There is a chinese saying, “Where there is pain, there is no free flow. Where there is free flow, there is no pain.”

Cup Types

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) uses either glass or pneumatic cups. Glass cups use fire to remove the air under the cup so the cupping sticks better to the area being treated. Pneumatic cups are either glass or plastic, placed on the problem area of the body, then a pump is inserted to the top of the cup and the air is sucked out of the cup to the desired level. The equipment is very simple and easy-to-use offering the option of self-care cupping, or for a professional treatment.

How Does it Feel?

Anyone can receive cupping therapy; it is even safe for children under 5 years old (but the duration of the treatment is only 2-3 minutes and the cups are placed with a lighter suction when treating children). Healthy adults and weaker elderly can receive cupping without harm and the treatments typically last only six to ten minutes. The time spent with cups can feel good -- other than a slight pulling of the skin there isn’t any pain involved, it’s very relaxing.

Those Bruises

They’re not actually bruises but surface discolorations, which give a visual indication of how much stagnation is in the area. They range from pink to dark purple and last longer depending on the degree of stagnation in the area. Some can be gone right after the treatment and some last up to a week, longer if someone is sick or sedentary, but they’re not painful.

Cupping Benefits

  • Improves circulatory function of blood and lymph, assisting the purification of the blood, and regulation of the nervous system.

  • The effect of cupping stimulates lymphatic circulation which helps transport of toxins out of the body.

  • There is better blood flow within joints movement of synovial fluids and muscles spasms near joints.

  • Can stimulate digestive organs, the secretion of digestive fluids, and strengthen the power of digestion and absorption.

  • It helps the skin, nerves and muscles by stimulating the blood vessels in the skin, improving the metabolic process - temperature rises, increasing circulation.

  • We most often see cupping used for local removal of discomfort and the relaxation of stiff muscles; reducing swelling and pain.

Indications for Cupping

  • Back pain

  • Sore muscles

  • Neck pain

  • Sciatica

  • Cellulite

  • Plantar fasciitis

  • Frozen Shoulder

  • Anxiety

  • Fatigue

  • Migraine

  • Post-surgery adhesions

  • Asthma and congestion



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