One way to think about cupping is as the inverse of massage. Rather than applying pressure to muscles, suction pulls the skin and muscles away from the body. Cupping can be used as a treatment on its own or in conjunction with conventional massage or acupuncture.
The technique has been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years and although the techniques may have modernised, the original idea remains the same. Cupping involves warming the air inside a glass cup which is then placed on the skin. A vacuum is created as the air inside the cup cools. This then raises or sucks the underlying tissue partway into the cup. The main aim of cupping is to encourage circulation and thereby relieve pain and tension.
You will usually feel a tight sensation in the area of the cup. Often, this sensation is relaxing and soothing. Depending on your comfort and your practitioner's assessment of the problem, cups may be moved around or left in place. They may remain on your body briefly or for longer amounts of time. Each treatment is unique to you. One very common area to be cupped is the back, although cups work well on other areas, too — particularly on fleshy sections of the body.
Cupping causes the skin to temporarily turn red or purple, especially if there is an injury or energetic blockage under the area that was cupped. If the cups are moved around by the therapist, the discoloration can disappear as soon as the treatment is finished. However, if cups are left motionless on the skin, then discoloration can last anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks. The marks are caused by blood been pulled towards the skin in the same way as a “love bite” or “hickey” and are not painful.
Cupping is often associated with Traditional Chinese Medicine, but is certainly not exclusive to it. It has been used by ancient Egyptians, Native Americans, early Greeks and in other Asian and European countries. Cupping therapy was described by the Yellow Emperor, author or the most ancient books on acupuncture in about 2500BC. It was also recommended by the ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates, in about 400BC.
Cupping should not be used on patients who bleed easily, have skin ulcers, oedema or varicose veins. Pregnant women should be cupped with extreme caution and never on their abdomen or lower back.