Where is it from and what is it for? Cupping has origins in many difference cultures all over the world, dating back thousands of years. Variants are found in Chinese, Japanese, Egyptian, Russian and Indian history, to name just a handful, and it has a different name in each culture. Cupping has applications for many different ailments, from musculoskeletal aches and pains, to migraines, colds, and even energy imbalances.
I would call it a "folk medicine", much like chicken soup for a bad cold. Maybe the soup doesn't actually cure your cold, but it does make you feel better. I first experienced cupping over a year ago, and found it to be a very effective pain reliever, muscle relaxer, and well-being improver. I use it as part of my own healthcare routine to keep myself feeling good and working hard.
What exactly is involved? I heard there was fire. There are different cupping mechanisms available. I use a combination of glass fire cups and silicon cups. Soft silicon cups are applied by pushing the air out manually and letting the vacuum form when the silicon recoils, drawing soft tissue up into the cup. There are some cups that have a pump built in, so that they are pumped up by hand after being applied to the skin. Fire cupping uses heat to warm the air inside the glass cups, making it expand, and the cooling and contraction of the air when the cup is placed on your skin causes a vacuum to form and draw the tissues up into the cup. Don't worry: the fire never touches your skin! Usually an oil or salve is applied to your skin to help form the seal, and to help the cup glide across your skin without pulling or scraping. I use pure coconut oil.
How does it work? At its most basic level, cupping is a pulling force on the soft tissues - compared to traditional massage which is a pushing force. The lifting action can help to separate muscle fibres, ease apart layers of fascia which have become adhered, and improve lymphatic circulation in the area. I use cupping across fascial chains and muscle groups, whereas some other practices will use cupping along meridians or over acupressure points to affect energy in the body.
The sensation is unusual - we don't generally experience these forces acting on our bodies, but after a moment to adjust, most people find cupping very enjoyable. I use a combination of static cupping, where the cups remain in one place for several minutes, and dynamic cupping, where I will move the cups across the skin. It can feel intense, particularly in areas of tension, and I will constantly check in with my clients to make sure we are working within comfort levels. Any discomfort is typically temporary, and worth it for the sense of relaxation when the cups are removed!
Errr, and the marks? Yes, I expect you are curious about the marks that are left behind. There is a lot of theory floating around about them. One theory is that the vacuum force draws blood cells into the area and causes a very mild form of bruising, like a hickey. Another theory, which I tend to lean towards, is that dead cells, junk from trauma and disease, and other metabolic waste can get trapped in the adhesions between fascial layers. This includes dead blood cells. The cup will release the fascial restriction and all of this waste is then free to be cleared away by the lymphatic and circulatory system - but in the meantime you have a mark left behind.
In my personal experience, the marks only appear on areas of my body that are particularly tight and sore. Areas that are much less restricted or trouble-free do not tend to leave marks (as you can see in the picture above - my whole back was cupped in the same session, but only certain areas left dramatic marks behind). There are other theories that relate to Traditional Chinese Medicine and other systems.
Do the marks hurt? They look like they would, don't they? Surprisingly, when cupping is applied correctly, the marks are not tender at all, unlike a traumatic bruise. If the cups are left in one place for too long, they can cause some tenderness, but I work carefully to keep them moving enough to prevent leaving you in pain. Generally the marks will fade after three or four days, depending on their severity and your lifestyle. Keeping hydrated after your sessions will speed up the fading process.
So what does it feel like afterwards? I describe it as a sense of space within your own body, like putting on your pyjamas after wearing tight clothes all day. You may also feel muscular tension has decreased, stiffness has melted away, and an improvement in your movement. Many people report less pain after receiving cupping.
I've seen videos where there is blood. What about that? That is a different strand of cupping therapy that includes blood-letting. This is not something that I include in my practice, due to the issues of infection control and general safety. The cupping that I offer is strictly without blood-letting.
What if you suffer from migraines? There is no scientific, peer-reviewed evidence as yet that cupping is useful for migraines, but there are many, many reports from clients around the world that their migraines decreased or even stopped after they tried cupping therapy. I have heard from leading medical professors that some specialists will recommend cupping to their migraine patients - but they will recommend it off the record. Where migraines are caused by extreme muscular tension and dysfunction, particularly in the neck, shoulders and upper back, cupping can make dramatic improvements in the muscle quality and help to reduce migraines.
If you'd like to try cupping, it is included as standard at any massage appointment with me, and I will integrate the cups alongside traditional hands-on massage. I ask for your consent at every appointment, even if you have agreed to cupping previously. If you decide you're not enjoying it, you can speak up at any point during your appointment and I will remove all of the cups immediately.
Contact me to make an appointment and try it for yourself!