Cupping therapy is an ancient alternative treatment to induce suction on the skin using cups made from glass, plastic, silicone, or bamboo. This therapy uses a unique technique in which blood is brought to the top of the skin where the cup is placed. This technique most commonly encourages blood circulation and relief of headaches and migraines, neck discomfort, and back pain. Cupping therapies have been used for centuries to treat various ailments but gained serious popularity again over the last decade.
Where Did Cupping Therapy Originate?
Egyptian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern cultures have been utilizing cupping therapies since 1550 B.C. Eber’s papyrus, one of the oldest medical textbooks ever discovered, is one of the earliest medical writings to describe cupping therapy. Though cupping therapy has been used throughout history, it did not gain popularity until the Renaissance era. Between the 14th and 17th centuries, Italians began to use cupping therapy to treat arthritis and gout. Cupping is a safe, age-old method of treating tight, painful muscles compared to massage therapy alone.
What Are The Different Cupping Techniques?
Cupping is a technique that includes applying and manipulating suctioning cups to the skin to produce a vacuum. This therapy is most frequently used to ease pain and stress, but it can also successfully treat various ailments and foster overall wellness and balance.
The two most common cupping techniques are stationary and sliding. You may hear these techniques being referred to as dynamic cupping and moving cupping, but the principle of the technique is the same. Stationary cupping relies solely on suction to hold the cups in position for a defined period, typically between five and ten minutes. Sliding cupping is similar to a deep tissue massage in that the practitioner slides the cups over the areas of stress or pain.
A stationary cupping session is best when concentration on a certain area is needed. Because these cups do not move for several minutes to an hour, this allows your body’s connective tissue to fully extend resulting in relief from muscle aches and chronic pain.
A sliding cupping technique begins with massage oil to avoid any friction during the session. Once the oil is applied, the vacuum is created while the cup makes contact with the skin and any oxygen is suctioned out. The cup is then able to slide across the back and neck to treat the problem areas, release tension, and increase blood flow.
There is a third technique that is decreasing in popularity called fire cupping. Fire cupping includes a controlled flame entering the cup to quickly consume the oxygen before being flipped over onto the body, creating a vacuum. This technique is not used as often as it used to be as it is more difficult to treat boney or awkward areas than if a rubber cup was used.
Where Do the Practitioners Place the Cups?
The cups can be used to treat the back, stomach, chest, buttocks, arms, and any other muscle group to which the cups can be easily attached. Most commonly cupping sessions are completed on a person’s back – but can also be applied to your face if you wish to undergo facial or cosmetic cupping! Depending on the level of discomfort, your physician can use different-sized cups to treat you.
What are the Different Methods of Cupping Therapy?
Cupping methods have changed over the years. Cupping was initially completed with animal horns, but modern medicine has progressed with the use of bamboo, ceramic, glass, and plastic cups. The primary method of producing suction was to heat the cup with a flame, suffocating the oxygen within the cup. The cup is then applied to the skin creating a vacuum due to the lack of oxygen in the cup. In this day and age, the modern cupping procedure involved bell-shaped glass cups.
The four primary types of cupping practiced nowadays are as follows:
Dry Cupping which uses only suction.
Wet Cupping may include controlled medical bleeding in addition to suction.
Running Cupping entails circling the body with suctioned cups after massaging the desired area with oil.
Flash Cupping includes repeatedly sucking and releasing cups from a surface quickly.
During a dry cupping session, a glass or plastic cup is applied to the skin without any oil, and the oxygen is suctioned out. This cupping therapy can increase blood flow and reduce pain in the treated area. Many patients state that this technique feels like a massage.
Wet cupping involves a small scalpel making tiny incisions across the treated areas. After a cup has sat on your skin for about three minutes, your physician will make a tiny cut to draw out blood using mild suction. This cupping method is best for increasing blood flow, reducing inflammation, and removing harmful substances from the body.
Running cupping is a relaxing form of cupping that is most similar to a massage. Massage oil is applied to the areas being treated, and then cups are vacuumed to the body. Once the cups are securely sealed, the physician or therapist will run the cups up and down the treated areas.
Flash Cupping requires the use of heat or a controlled flame to warm the cup and produce the vacuum. These cups are heated quickly and moved to different trigger points in the affected areas. The process is repeated as needed to reduce local congestion, relieving muscle aches and chronic pain.
How To Prepare For A Cupping Session
Like any medical spa treatment, it is important to be well-rested and well-hydrated before a cupping massage. Cupping is great for your lymphatic system, but in order for your lymphatic system to wash away your cellular waste after treatment, you will need to be hydrated. Additionally, you should eat about one to two hours before your cupping session.
Do not shave or exfoliate the areas being treated right before a cupping therapy session. Shaving and exfoliating cause the skin to be a bit more sensitive than normal. While cupping is not an invasive treatment, the process can involve placing heated cups on the skin, and it may be uncomfortable if the skin was recently shaved or exfoliated.
For the same reasons listed above, it is best to avoid a cupping massage with sunburned skin. If you have a sunburn, you may want to consider waiting until your skin is no longer burned or pealing to receive a cupping massage.
How Long Do The Sessions Last?
- Dry Cupping: The cup is placed firmly for anywhere between ten minutes to one hour or more and remains stationary for the entire cupping procedure.
- Wet Cupping: The cup is initially placed for three minutes before the incision is made. The overall session can take between ten minutes to one hour depending on the pain thresholds of the patients.
- Running Cupping: Before using suction, running cupping typically entails applying oil. The area is then carefully massaged with the cups while they are moved around. Depending on your treatment, the session may last from ten minutes to one hour or more.
- Flash Cupping: It entails sucking the cups quickly and then releasing them in the same area of the body. This usually takes between five and ten minutes.
Can I Use Cupping Therapy On Myself At Home?
Yes, you are able to apply cupping therapy by yourself at home. There are several kits available for purchase online. You can choose to purchase either glass, plastic, or rubber cups for an at-home cupping therapy session. Many cupping massage therapists will suggest you receive your first cupping session within a medical building by a medical professional just so you can see and feel how it is supposed to be done.
Silicone or rubber cups are standard in a beginner’s package, and while these are effective, you may not experience the same level of suction as you would from a glass cup applied by a professional. Patients can attend cupping appointments in the office up to two or three times a week, but it is recommended to only apply the cups to yourself at home once a week until you are comfortable in your practice.
The option to practice cupping therapy at home is great for patients with chronic pain who do not wish to break the bank. In-office cupping therapy sessions can range in price from $40/session to $100+/session, depending on the physician and the area treated. Most at-home cupping therapy kits are between $50-$100 and be used repeatedly.
The effects of applying cupping therapies at home versus in the office can certainly vary depending on the level of knowledge applied during the session. It is always recommended to contact your primary care physician before trying any new at-home health remedies. Remember that cupping therapy is not advised for anyone experiencing blood disorders or anyone on blood thinners, patients who have pacemakers, or those with heart, kidney, or liver conditions.
What Is Cosmetic Cupping?
Cosmetic cupping is executed differently than other cupping therapies. While the principle is the same, the cups used for cosmetic cupping are much smaller and softer than the standard cups. The smaller cups are beneficial for increasing blood flow to the face without leaving bruises behind. After the application of the cups, the surrounding tissue on your face is soaked with fresh blood, resulting in new blood vessels forming. Cosmetic cupping therapy works to make a patient’s face appear rejuvenated due to the minimization of the appearance of scars and fine lines.
Cosmetic cupping is a safe and well-researched technique, but there can be minor risks. You may experience dizziness, lightheadedness, and nausea during or right after cosmetic cupping treatment.
When To Expect To Start Feeling The Effects
Many patients state they feel the effects of cupping during or immediately after a session. Depending on the level of pain being treated, it is occasionally possible for a patient to need two or three cupping treatments in order to feel relief. Standard muscle aches are typically relieved after one session, whereas chronic pain may take two or three sessions to be relieved.
Many professional athletes use this alternative medicine technique to reduce pain immediately after a game or practice. With consistent treatment, the effects of cupping therapy tend to last longer.
What Makes Cupping Different From Massage Therapy?
Both massage therapy and cupping therapy are used to reduce pain, but medical professionals have determined vast differences between the two treatments. John E. Ebinger, PT, a board-certified sports medicine specialist stated that “While massage therapy uses direct pressure to release the tension, cupping uses negative pressure to lift the muscle fibers and draw blood to the area.”
Cupping allows muscles and blood vessels to stretch before returning to their natural state, resulting in a reduction of tightness. A normal deep-tissue massage from a massage therapist can be beneficial in releasing tension and built-up knots in your muscles, but the addition of cupping therapy to your normal massage is great for the skin and blood vessels as well as the muscles.
What Your Cupping Bruise Colors Mean
Because of the vacuum-like suction that is created by the specific placement of the cups, many patients are left with slight discoloration in the treated area after a cupping treatment. The marks are often referred to as bruises, but they are not bruises as we know them. These marks are left behind due to broken blood vessels and stagnant blood being brought to the surface of your skin – and it is nothing to be concerned about. Toxins, dead skin, and other cellular debris are filtered and brought to the top of the skin promoting the generation of new blood flow.
If you are left with dark purple or deep red bruises after a cupping session, it simply means your skin is letting you know that you had severe stagnation in your blood. These darker marks are expected to heal within three to seven days. Occasionally patients are left healing from these marks for up to two weeks if they are treated for an old injury during the cupping session.
If your skin is left with only mild pink or red bruises, it is likely you have healthy blood circulation. The lighter pink and red marks can fade as quickly as a few minutes after the service is completed. Some patients may notice their light pink marks stick around for up to 24 hours after the service is completed.
What Conditions Can Be Treated By Cupping Therapy?
Cupping therapy has been around for centuries – and there is no confusion as to why. Cupping therapy has been used to treat a wide variety of medical ailments including arthritis, back, neck, shoulder, and knee pain; breathing problems such as asthma, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches, migraines, high blood pressure; gastrointestinal conditions, and even certain skin conditions.
Back Pain Relief
Most patients commonly seek out cupping therapy for relief of chronic neck and back pain. Because cupping therapy uses the vacuum method, the cups encourage the increase of blood flow to the area and the reduction of inflammation. Anyone with chronic neck or back pain knows how uncomfortable living with untreated chronic pain can be. Comparable to a deep tissue massage, cupping is a great and relaxing way to relieve the pain without any medications or surgeries.
Cupping therapy is a completely safe therapy to treat chronic pain when done by a medical professional.
Due to the increase in blood flow that cupping therapies provide, many professional athletes have turned to cupping services as a way to recover faster after intense workouts. Toxins like uric and lactic acids build up in the muscles after exercise, so receiving a cupping treatment after a game or practice can be beneficial in reducing inflammation, promoting new blood flow, and reducing the body’s recovery time.
Our bodies treat cupping therapy like an injury and will send fresh blood to the treated area in hopes of “healing” the injury. According to a 2018 review, cupping therapy successfully treats acne and the pain associated with herpes zoster (shingles). The suction process of the cupping therapy pulls blood through the open pores, resulting in toxins and pathogens being removed from the skin. The removal of these trapped toxins results in brighter clear skin. A clinical trial report shows that wet cupping is best for the relief of herpes zoster pain, but further research needs to be completed as there is no systematic review posted at this time.
Is Cupping Therapy Painful?
This type of therapy should be relaxing and enjoyable. While moderate discomfort can be expected due to the suction of your skin inside the cup, cupping therapy is not painful. Cupping therapies leave behind small marks that are similar to bruises, and these may be sensitive for a day or two after treatment.
Occasionally patients report mild nausea and lightheadedness during a cupping session, but this can be avoided by properly nourishing your body with plenty of water and a meal prior to your treatment.
What do The Experts Say About Cupping Therapy?
There is some evidence that suggests cupping can help with pain alleviation. However, the studies are typically regarded as of low quality. More investigation is necessary to grasp the therapy’s effects on health.
According to growing research, cupping may be a helpful supplemental treatment for several symptoms and illnesses. Cupping therapies started to gain popularity again in 2016 at the RIO Olympics when Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps showed off some bruising from a cupping therapy treatment. However, more credible research is still necessary to confirm the benefits of cupping.
Cupping is a safe and therapeutic option for most patients and may enhance an already effective regimen. Like any therapy, it’s crucial to visit a qualified specialist who has undergone the necessary training and licensing. Additionally, you should speak with your doctor before beginning any new medical regimen.
The Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine’s research shows that it may provide back pain relief and help with herpes zoster and acne.
This is consistent with the findings of a 2012 study published in the journal PLoS One. Researchers from Australia and China examined 135 articles on cupping. They concluded that cupping therapy is beneficial for those who also receive additional therapies, such as acupuncture or drugs, for a variety of illnesses and disorders, such as:
- Herpes Zoster.
- Cervical Spondylosis.
- Facial Paralysis.
Though cupping has been around since as early as 1550 B.C., there is not a lot of high-quality medical research showing its benefits. “There are several purported benefits of cupping that include reduced pain, muscle tightness and inflammation, improved blood flow (circulation) and increased range of motion, yet there is very little data or high-quality clinical research to support these claims,” Ebinger said.
What are The Risks Attached to Cupping Therapy?
Cupping is relatively safe when performed by a competent health expert, such as the board-certified physicians at bloom MedSpa. However, at the region where the cups contact your skin, you can experience the following side effects:
- Mild discomfort.
- Skin infection.
Moreover, you may also experience the following:
- Burns from heated cups.
- Muscle tension or soreness.
While all of these risks are mild, it is best to consult your primary care physician to see if cupping therapy would be right for you. Cupping therapy is not recommended for patients who have heart, kidney, or liver failure. Cupping therapy is also not recommended for anyone with blood disorders, such as anemia or hemophilia, or anyone on blood thinners. Patients who have pacemakers or heart disease should be sure to ask their primary care physician before scheduling a cupping therapy session.
There is also a minor risk of skin infection if a wet cupping method is used. Cupping may also worsen skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.
What Should You Avoid After A Cupping Session?
Like any medical treatment, there are things to avoid after your appointment. It is best to avoid any processed or sugary food and drinks, dairy, caffeine, and alcohol after a treatment. It is possible that these items can slow your body’s means to process the cupping therapy.
While cupping therapy is not an invasive procedure, your skin may experience sensitivity to temperature after a treatment. You should avoid hot showers, saunas and steam rooms, and hot tubs for about four to six hours after a cupping session.
Additionally, you should keep yourself warm and avoid any strong air conditioning or windy conditions after receiving cupping therapy due to the sensitivity that temperature changes may bring on. You are welcome to continue daily activities about six hours after a session.
Recovery Time For A Cupping Therapy Session
There is almost zero downtime after receiving a cupping therapy session. You will just need to avoid intense exercise, alcohol, caffeine, and processed food or beverages for about four to six hours post-treatment. You may experience different levels of bruising after a cupping treatment, but these marks will heal on their own anywhere from two days to two weeks post-treatment. These marks should not be painful, but you may experience mild discomfort for a day or two. You are welcome to continue daily activities the following day post-treatment.
Choose bloom MedSpa for Cupping Therapy
Cupping is an ancient technique that involves suctioning the skin using plastic, glass, bamboo, or silicone cups. It encourages improved blood flow, pain relief, and immunological function. Our practitioner, Magaly DiCanio, DOM has been practicing alternative medicine for over 30 years.
At bloom MedSpa, clients can now enjoy a great therapy experience that will help reduce chronic neck and back pain, skin conditions, and other health problems. You can trust bloom MedSpa’s exceptional staff and med spa treatment methods. Give our office a call at (888) 233-0038 to schedule your free initial consultation today!