Cupping Therapy

When most people hear the phrase cupping therapy they usually default to an image of a Chinese Medicine Practitioner wielding a small flaming utensil in one hand and round glass suction cup in the other. They are standing over of a treatment table with a patient lying face down and the patient’s back is covered with circular hickey marks. 

While this may be true, there is much more to know about this classic and effective Chinese Medical treatment therapy. 


Cupping therapy is a Traditional Chinese Medical therapy that has been used as a stand- alone treatment method and additional treatment to acupuncture for thousands of years.  It’s most common application is for muscle pain due to muscle tension, trigger points, poor circulation, metabolic waste buildup and inflammation. Though commonly used for pain cupping therapy can be used for other conditions.


How It Works:

Cupping therapy is often referred to as fire cupping because, as most cupping pictures will point out, the Chinese Medicine Practitioner needs a flame to complete the procedure. The Practitioner lights a cotton ball in a hemostat on fire, quickly inserts the flame into the glass cup for 2 -3 seconds reducing the amount of oxygen inside the cup and creating a vacuum effect. The Practitioner then removes the flame from the cup and gently places the cup onto the desired treatment area. The cups will suction to the skin and muscle firmly – a skilled Practitioner will be able to adjustment the level of suction without needing to remove and reset the cup. The cups are either left static on the area for 8 – 15 minutes or are moved along the affected muscle or meridian pathway like a deep tissue massage using a technique know as “walking cups”.  

Both walking and static cups are typically used on large, hairless, muscular areas of the body. Depending on the level of suction both styles of cupping can penetrate deep muscle tissue below the surface of the skin. Walking cupping, unlike static cupping, necessitates a base of oil applied to the treatment area before the cups are set to ensure smooth cup gliding. 

Despite the possible health benefits and how good cupping therapy can feel many people are unsure of cupping because of the famous “bruises” the cups can leave.   The cups can leave discolorations but they are NOT bruises.

Bruising is caused by trauma to blood vessels that causes blood to leak out of the vessels into tissues of the skin, that often leaves the area tender and painful. However, the discoloration formed by the vacuum effect of cupping therapy comes from the pulling of poor circulating blood and fluids from constricted tissues to the skin surface.

Once at the skin surface purple or red discolorations can form but are flushed by the lymphatic system a few days after the  treatment. 

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Ryan Samuels - Registered Acupuncturist & Chinese Herbalist 




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