Cupping is a healing modality that has been used for thousands of years in many cultures around the world. Many know it through Traditional Chinese Medicine. In recent years it became more popular in the modern Western world when professional athletes, such as Michael Phelps, Olympic swimmer and gold medalist, were seen during competitions with strange, perfectly round, bruise-like marks on various parts of their body, such as their shoulder. People started wondering what this was and realized if professional athletes are doing it, it must be a good thing!
I use both fire-cupping and plastic pump-style cups in my practice. When I feel a client could really benefit from cupping (which most of us can), I explain what it is and suggest trying it out as part of there massage/ bodywork session. Most are very open to it, and most love it! Honestly, almost all my clients that have received cupping report back how great they felt after the session, and how long they found relief from their tension or pain. I have had a couple clients that felt neutral about it, and were not able to discern if the cupping provided added benefit or not. But I have never had a client dislike cupping.
As I write this, my husband is laying on the massage table with cups on his mid to lower back region (the middle and lower Jiao in Chinese Medicine). His low back started to spasm and hurt like crazy about 2 days ago. He has been in agony since. Massage, muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatories have not brought him much relief. Only five minutes after I put the cups on, he said "this is the first time my back has not hurt since it started to spasm. Please leave them on longer!." My husband is a lucky guy, he's married to a massage therapist! At first he was a bit resistant to trying these crazy, "holistic" therapies, but now he asks for it when he's in pain (like at work, when he moves laboratory instruments that are way to heavy for one person to move!) And it always helps him heal from his soft-tissue strains, pains and injuries. He LOVES cupping, and swears by it.
Clients often ask me what cupping does and why it might help. There are many answers to this question, and it depends if you are looking at it from a Western, Eastern or other perspective. One answer is that it acts to loosen tissue through stretching/ pullling, which is the opposite action of massage. With massage, we are pushing into the tissue to release tension, adhesions and restrictions in the muscle and fascial layers. Cupping is an excellent tool to help release myofascial restrictions. And it brings in more blood & fluid flow to the tissue than massage alone. Why is this important? Because blood and other fluids bring nutrients to our muscles, tendons, ligments & fascial layers. It nourishes our cells, and hauls away toxins and metabolic wastes. When there are restrictions in our muscles and fascia, sufficient blood flow may be cut off, thus the tight muscles are starving for nutrients and oxygen.
Ok, time to take those cups off my husband!! Update: After standing up, and walking around a few minutes, my husband came into the living room and said "This is the best I have felt since my back started hurting. It is so much better. THIS SHIT WORKS!! I don't know how it works, but it does!!" Hahahaha!! Yes, it works. Not for everything of course. There are times that cupping is contra-indicated, as there is with most therapeutic bodywork modalities. When cupping is indicated, it helps release restrictions and activate your body to heal it's own soft tissue.
Oh ya, one of the cups produced a few blisters on my husbands back, only one cup! Blisters are not common, from my experience, but can happen on occasion. Some people believe blisters are a sign of "over-cupping", but this is not the case in the Chinese culture. Blisters mean there was more stagnation and were more toxins in that tissue or organ system that needed to move out of the body. Also, there has actually been a research study done that concluded the blisters from cupping are different from blisters that we get from injuries, such as burns. The cupping blisters actually had proteins and cells that are involved with repairing tissue! This was different from cells found in blisters from burns. Below is a quote regarding their conclusion and a link to the abstract, should you be interested.
"Cupping induced blisters contain several proteins which relate to the activation of certain immune pathways including anti-oxidation, anti-apoptosis, tissue repairing and metabolic regulation. This proteomic analysis may indicate a significant clue to the mechanism study of cupping." (Copyright © 2017 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.PMID 29458925 [Indexed for MEDLINE]. "Is cupping blister harmful?-A proteomical analysis of blister fluid induced by cupping therapy and scald", Liu Z, et al. Complement Ther Med. 2018.)
Have more questions? Shoot me an email! I'm happy to chat.