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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?