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The Beginner's Guide to Cupping

woman with tattoos receiving cupping in the upper back

While many people are familiar with the signature circular cupping marks found on athletes and famous people, it is less well known what cupping actually is and why someone would want to undergo what appears to be a painful therapy. Here is what you need to know about how cupping works, what it benefits, and why you should try it!

1. Is cupping painful?

Cupping is not painful. The suction of the cups can be minimal or intense, similar to massage. Some people like more pressure, while others prefer a very gentle suction. You will feel the cups, but you should still be able to relax during a cupping session. Your acupuncturist will communicate with you throughout the treatment: if you are experiencing discomfort at any point, the cups will be adjusted to your comfort level.

2. What are the cups made of, and how do they stay on?

Cupping was historically performed in China using animal horns! Nowadays cups are typically made of glass, plastic or silicone. The material of the cup determines how the cup is applied. What they all have in common is that the air in the cup needs to be removed in order to create a suction to the body. Usually silicone cups are squeezed to remove the air before applying them to the skin, and plastic cups have a pump attachment.

Typically in our office we use glass cups. To apply glass cups, we use a cotton ball soaked in alcohol, which is then lit on fire. The fire is placed inside the cup, using up the oxygen inside the empty space. The fire is removed, and the cup is gently placed on the patient's skin, creating a negative pressure and suction.

2. Are there different types of cupping?

Yes. The two types of cupping we do in our office are stationary cupping and sliding cupping. Stationary cupping is what most people think of first, since it produces marks that are in a perfect circle. The cup stays in one place for a period of time, usually 5-15 minutes.

Sliding cupping is a method using an oil on the skin so that the cup can be moved around after it is applied. We like to say this method is "like a reverse massage," since the tissue is being gently stretched instead of compressed. Moving the cups around allows the practitioner to treat a broader area.

Both of the methods we do in our office are classified as "dry cupping." There is a method of cupping called "wet cupping," which includes using cups to facilitate bloodletting. We do not practice wet cupping in our office.

3. How long will I have marks after treatment?

For most people cupping marks are gone in just a few days, but for others, cupping marks can stick around for up to three weeks. Usually the marks are darker if someone has never had cupping (or hasn't had it in a long time), and/or if a muscle is very tight or subjected to repetitive use. Cupping marks can also be darker when the body is under a lot of stress.

Cupping marks will often be in a circle with stationary cupping, and may have less of a distinct shape with sliding cupping, as the cups are being moved over a broader area. If you have an event coming up where you will be wearing a backless gown, please make sure to let us know ahead of time and we will likely advise you skip cupping until afterwards! The good news is, with repeated treatment, cupping marks tend to get lighter and disappear faster as the body flushes out toxins and improves circulation to the affected area.

4. What does cupping treat?

We most frequently use cupping for muscle pain. The suction of cupping loosens and lifts connective tissue. This increases blood flow to areas that may have poor circulation due to muscles being tight or overworked.

We often hear from patients that they slept wonderfully after a cupping session. We frequently use cupping to help with insomnia and sleep issues.

Cupping is great for asthma, and having received cupping as part of my treatment for asthma long before I became an acupuncturist, I can attest to how much it helps! Cupping in the upper back loosens up the chest, helping with breathing and to break up mucus. Also great for mild colds or lingering coughs.

This is a short list of what cupping can help with. Please get in touch if you want to learn more about whether cupping is a good fit for you.

5. Is cupping safe?

Cupping is very safe when performed by a licensed professional. Cupping is used in a number of traditional medicines from around the world, either passed down through generations or taught under a certification program. Cupping is in the scope of practice of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine. The risks associated with cupping, according to the NCCIH, include scarring, burning or infection. When performed by a qualified practitioner who is using best practices, these risks are almost nonexistent.

6. Is there anyone who should not receive cupping therapy?

While cupping is great for a lot of people, it is not the right therapy for everyone.

It is important for the practitioner to evaluate the integrity of the patient's skin before performing cupping. Cupping is not performed over open wounds, very thin skin, or over areas of eczema or psoriasis.

Patients with circulatory disorders or diabetes are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Patients with any type of organ failure are not eligible for cupping therapy.

It is also inappropriate to use cupping directly over broken bones (though it can help with nearby inflammation and tight muscles that come as a result of immobilizing any area of the body).

7. What should I do before and after cupping?

Before cupping, it's important to make sure to drink water and have eaten something. Cupping is more effective when the body is hydrated. Eating something ahead of time reduces the risk of dizziness after treatment (just like with acupuncture: see our previous blog post for more info on preparing for acupuncture treatment).

After cupping, make sure to keep the area covered. The area will be more sensitive to temperature, and it's important to keep warm and avoid a draft, which could send the affected muscles into spasm. If you can wait until the next day to take a shower or bath, that is ideal, to avoid any drastic temperate changes from hot to cold. It is also a good idea to abstain from alcohol or any other toxic substances for at least 24 hours after the treatment, so as not to overtax the liver.

Most people feel relaxed and a little tired after a cupping session. Occasionally people feel more energized. How you will feel will depend on the reason you're receiving the cupping therapy, and how your body is responding to treatment. We always recommend resting and taking it easy directly after treatment.


Still have questions about cupping? Send us a message, give us a call, or let us know in the comments below!

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In the human being body where is the location of cupping for

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