My introduction to cupping
My first experience with cupping occurred when I was attending massage therapy school in 1997. One of my classmates was receiving acupuncture treatments for inflammation in her elbow. I asked if I could join a treatment session in an effort to learn more about cupping.
“This has to hurt!” I thought, watching my friend undergo her own treatment.
My friend’s practitioner offer to cup my arm so I could experience it for myself. You may recall the movie, Karate Kid (2010), where the Karate teacher performs a chauva healing treatment on his student. He holds a glass cup upside down while he sets fire to a cotton ball drenched in a flammable liquid. Using forceps, he places the lit cotton ball underneath the cup until the fire extinguishes itself and immediately places the glass cup onto the skin. A vacuum is created with the sudden loss of oxygen and it sucks the skin into the rim of the glass.
I watched as the cotton ball transformed from magical balls of flame of fire back to its original form, a plain cotton ball. He placed the cup on my arm. Almost immediately, the blood began rushing to the area and my skin began to lift into the cup. I experienced an intense sensation that wasn’t exactly painful, but I definitely wouldn’t define it as enjoyable either. In a full treatment, the cup would have been left in place for 15-20 minutes, but I’d had enough after just a few minutes. The cup was removed from my arm and I didn’t think or hear about the practice again for almost 20 years.
Current trends in cupping
Cupping has been gaining in popularity among star athletes, the most notable being Michael Phelps. Evidence of cupping showed by the purple circles and dots on his shoulder right before his 2016 meet. Since that televised moment, more and more people have expressed an interest in this type of therapy. Therapists and colleagues alike have been training and offering this modality for many years prior, but I remained rather skeptical. In recent years however, I have learned there are a variety of cupping modalities and practices.
What is Massage cupping?
Two years ago I was introduced to massage cupping. This integrates cupping where the fascia tends to be very tightly stretched over trigger point areas of the body. I learned that by utilizing silicone cups instead of glass cups, I can control the suction to desensitize the painful areas first. Then I can integrate varied amounts of pressure while sliding the cups along the fascia.
My first experience with massage cupping was a very different sensation than my first experience in ‘97. Instead of pulling the skin immediately into the cup creating an uncomfortable sensation, the silicone cups left almost a ticklish sensation when first applied. As the pressure increased, I could feel the pulling sensation as my practitioner lifted the cup and guided the rim of the cup across my skin. I remember how great it felt around my upper shoulders and neck area as the areas loosened. I left that session as a believer! I have since integrated massage cupping into my treatment sessions with great success.
What is Chinese cupping?
In traditional Chinese cupping treatments, the practitioner uses a variety of cups, the most popular being cups with a valve attachment at the top. This allows a suction tool to be used to create high amounts of pressure while lifting the skin into the vacuum area. Cups are placed along the treatment area involving anywhere and can range from 12 to 30 or more cups. The photo below depicts this type of cupping style along the back, utilizing magnetic points to manipulate the flow of ‘chi’.
I also utilize a circulation chart which will also demonstrate he variety of skin coloration patterns left behind. These charts explain the type of circulation or stagnation present under the cupped area and why some sessions may leave purplish “dots” behind.
Is cupping right for me?
Whether you want to relax and enjoy multiple cups on your back, or if you prefer an inverted pressure to reach deeper tissue areas for a more thorough deep tissue massage, massage cupping is an excellent tool for most people. If you frequently receive trigger point injections, you are a great candidate for massage cupping! Some places charge up to $30 for the addition of a cupping treatment into the massage session, so be sure to ask questions about the style of cupping and to find out if there are any extra costs associated with it. I include cupping with all my Integrative Sessions.