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What is Cupping and What is it Used For?

Updated: Mar 23, 2021

Cupping is an incredible tool used within many cultures throughout the world. It is known for its ability to:

  1. Decrease physical pain

  2. Improve the body's detoxification process

  3. Decrease the severity and longevity of cold and flu-like illnesses.

What Are The "Bruise" Marks?

The colorations left behind from cupping are called Circulation Marks and are created by metabolic waste such as dead muscle and fascial tissue cells, dead red and white blood cells, and varying toxins. These things get stuck in your muscles and fascia when blood is not able to flow efficiently through an area or is sluggish in general.

If cupping is an appropriate tool for you, then you will most likely end up with some Circulation Marks.

These marks should not be misinterpreted as bruises

  1. A bruise will have that characteristic pain sensation when pressed.

  2. A Circulation Mark, however, will have coloration without the bruised sensation.

  3. While there may be some discomfort and possibly pain after a deep cupping, this sensation should feel closer to a deep tissue massage discomfort.

  4. These marks may take up to 10 hours to fully appear and between 48 hours and 2 weeks to disappear.

  5. The longer they take to appear and/or disappear, the more sluggish the lymphatic and blood circulation is through that area.

How Do Doctors of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Use Cupping?

In Chinese Medicine, cupping is used to move or disperse blockages to improve circulation and decrease pain. This process also helps to improve lymphatic flow (our liquid garbage disposal system) to expel toxins from the body through sweat, urine, bowel movements, and exhalation.

Cupping is also used to attract white blood cells to an area in order to quicken the response time and increase the strength of the immune system's reaction. Therefore, it is used to treat and prevent severe symptoms of cold and flu-like illnesses.

There are Several Different Ways to Use These Wonderful Tools:

1. Stationary Cupping:

Suctioning one or more cups onto a specific or general area in order to open and remove deeper layers of knotted tissue and reestablish proper blood flow while eliminating waste and toxins from that area.

This technique is also used to expel cold and flu-like illnesses from the body by attracting red and white blood cells to investigate the release of waste and toxins while helping to heal the area.

Cups are left in place for 5-10 minutes, often at a very strong suction, to pull from deeper regions.

This technique should result in significant Circulation Marks

This technique can result in some "Kick-Back" symptoms such as pain or achiness especially at the area of cupping, fatigue, and foggy-headedness. These symptoms are indications that your body is busy healing itself and detoxing the system.

2. Slide Cupping:

One cup is suctioned onto part of a broader region of the body and slid across to another part of that region.

The suction may be very strong and thus result in similar Circulation Marks and discomfort of the cupped region to deep stationary cupping.

Contrarily, the suction may be less aggressive and focused on opening and release more superficial tissue and improve blood flow to decrease pain and range of motion restrictions without the residual discomfort and Circulation Marks.

3. Flash Cupping:

One cup is suctioned and released within a few seconds along a specific meridian pathway or muscular region to open tissue and improve blood flow to decrease pain and range of motion restrictions.

This technique rarely results in Circulation Marks or residual pain and discomfort.

When Not To Use Cupping:

A licensed acupuncturist will assess your general health and complete a thorough health intake with you to determine if cupping is an appropriate tool to use for you.

Cupping is an amazing tool but can cause more harm than good if you are displaying signs of Blood Deficiency. This term is used as a general Pattern diagnosis within the Chinese Medical System and applies to patients who display signs and symptoms such as:

  1. Pale complexion

  2. Pale and brittle nails and hair

  3. Floaters in the visual field

  4. Easy bruising

  5. Difficulty falling asleep

  6. Dream-disturbed sleep

In these cases, the pain felt is due to a lack of available blood within the body, leaving your muscular system without enough of this resource to complete all of it's tasks

Cupping will leave these patients feeling drained and in the long run with more pain.

A rush of blood to the area of pain will initially decrease pain levels and may even eliminate the pain but often the pain will return and may intensify over time if this technique is used too often or too much.

In addition, repeatedly "stealing" blood resources from the internal organs and brain, because there is a lack of this resource in the body, can result in more serious health issues.

In these cases:

  1. Please consult with your practitioner about dietary and lifestyle recommendations

  2. Consider consulting with your practitioner about supplementing with an herbal formula to help your body create a larger quantity and/or a better quality of blood (both are relevant within this general Pattern).

  3. Additionally, acupuncture is a wonderful tool to stimulate your body to create more robust blood levels and quality. It also works efficiently with herbal formulas and dietary/lifestyle recommendations helping to quicken the healing process.

  4. Alternatively (or in addition), receiving regular gentle massages to help your body increase blood flow to the area causing pain while you work on rebuilding blood supplies is a wonderful way to keep pain levels low until you have enough blood to supply your brain, internal organs, and muscles.

  5. When your blood levels and quality are more robust, your pain will decrease and your energy levels will increase as your entire body will have more of what it needs.

Post-Treatment Self Care:

While The Circulation Marks are Dark:

  1. Try not to shower within 24 hours of receiving cupping. This technique opens the pores allowing cold air to penetrate deeper into the body. If the cupped area catches a draft, the muscles in that area will contract rapidly to rewarm the area. This is too much work for this area to do while it is healing. If you need to shower, try to wait until the next morning to allow for a full night of repair before straining these muscles.

  2. Along the same line as the previous rule, avoid getting cold and ingesting cold things such as ice, ice cream etc. Try to warm everything you eat and drink for the first 36 to 48 hours after cupping (especially if it is cold outside).

  3. Take it easy at the gym. Try not to overexert the area that was cupped for at least 24 hours after your treatment.

  4. If the area is achy or you are feeling fatigued try to get a good amount of sleep each night and take a nap if you need to allow your body time to heal and detox itself. You many also take a several 15-30 minute walks a day to help increase circulation.

  5. Enjoy a foot bath for the first couple of nights after your treatment to help speed the detoxification process, especially if you are experiencing any detox symptoms.

    1. Add 2-3 cups of Epsom Salt to warm/hot bath water and soak your feet for at least 15 minutes. (While you soak your feet, listen to your favorite music and sing out loud for some added fun and parasympathetic activation.)

Until The Circulation Marks are Less Visible:

  1. Drink warm fluids especially water so the body can focus on healing and detoxing instead of having to warm up the fluids in order to assimilate them.

  2. Eat warm foods such as soups and stews, these meals are easy for your digestive system to break down and do not require warming prior to nutrient assimilation. This will allow your body to focus on healing and detoxifying itself, helping to speed the process.

  3. Avoid sour flavors such as lemons and limes. These flavors are astringent in nature and will prohibit the body from detoxing (expelling waste and toxins) as thoroughly as it should.

If you are interested in learning more about cupping, contact a local Acupuncturist or Doctor of Chinese Medicine and see if cupping is a good treatment for you!

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