This treatment is called cupping therapy (also Chinese cupping, cupping suction, dry cupping, etc.) and it involves using glass, plastic, or rubber cups over skin and creating negative pressure by removing the oxygen inside.
These days, the negative pressure is created by a suction pump attached to the cup, but traditionally this treatment is done by lighting a flame under the cup and quickly placing it over the skin.
The negative pressure causes the soft tissue (skin, fascia, muscles) to raise and get sucked into the cup.
I’ve been using cupping for years in my practice. I was introduced to this treatment technique by one of my colleagues. Since then I have experienced the level of successful outcomes that can be achieved by such a simple technique to administer.
I, myself, have also experienced first hand how immediate the pain relief from cupping can be.
Although cupping has gained recent popularity thanks to international exposure by athletes showing off their residual bruise like markings, this treatment has been performed for thousands of years by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners to treat various illness and pain.
How is cupping performed?
The treatment can be performed by leaving cups over tight or achy spots on affected muscles or by gliding the cups over muscles in a massage-like fashion.
You can also leave the cup in one area have the patient perform a movement or stretch. This is called tissue distraction with movement (TDM).
Massage lotion is definitely recommended to reduce the friction on the skin and to make the treatment more comfortable.
Professional practitioners trained in acupuncture will place the cups over known acupuncture points to stimulate Qi (pronounced “chee”). Some cupping sets even come with a firm metal projection that attaches within the inside of the cup and provides an acupressure over the targeted area.
The cups can be left over the desired areas for however long you are comfortable with, normally around 10 minutes.
What is cupping therapy used for?
Literature on cupping has been shown to provide the following benefits:
- Decrease pain
- Decrease tenderness
- Improve mobility
- Improve tissue oxygenation
- Improve function
- Reduce Inflammation
Does cupping therapy hurt?
Although it may look bizarre and painful, cupping is typically a fairly comfortable treatment but it depends on how much suction is being used.
The size of the cups is also important. The bigger the cups, the more comfortable the treatment. Smaller cups may feel more like pinching. The therapist would choose the biggest cup that fits the area you are treating to reduce the likelihood of discomfort.
Mild discomfort may be experienced with aggressive cupping over tight or sore muscles. This can be similar to the feeling of a deep tissue massage or myofascial release with a foam roller.
Typically this is considered to be a “good hurt”. It’s the kind of hurt you don’t mind as much because you know you are doing some good to your body.
The residual markings left after treatment also make it appear as though it is painful, however, unlike a bruise, these marks are not tender and only last a few days.