Cupping Therapy: What Is It & How Does It Work

rubber cups for cupping therapy

While cupping therapy has been around for many thousands of years, it’s dramatically increased in popularity over the last 5 years. Remember when Michael Phelps had red and purple circular bruises visible on his body before taking part in his swimming events at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio? They were not actually bruises, and they did not hurt.

They were the marks left by his cupping therapy – the release of fresh blood flow to the surface of the skin while releasing metabolic waste to the surface to be flushed out of the body — which helped enhance his performance exponentially.  

What Is Cupping Therapy?

Tracing its roots to ancient Chinese, Egyptian, and Middle Eastern societies, cupping therapy was a form of traditional medicine used to relieve pain and treat musculoskeletal injuries such as back injuries, muscle stiffness, sprains, strains, and inflammations. Cupping therapy uses special cups on your skin for a few minutes to create a targeted form of suction, which directs circulation of blood to specific areas of the body to increase oxygenation and promote healing. While cupping therapy is still widely used today to treat pain and inflammation, it’s also used as a technique in deep-tissue massage which helps promote blood flow, relaxation, and overall well-being.

How Does Cupping Therapy Work?

Traditionally, there have been two different kinds of cupping therapy — dry cupping and wet cupping. Wet cupping is no longer allowed in the USA by massage therapists as it requires a different level of training. During a dry cupping session, the therapist places a round cup on the skin directly over a specific muscle or area of the body. These cups are usually made out of glass, bamboo, silicone, or earthenware so they can be heated or pumped manually to pressurize the air inside the cup. This vacuum creates a suction which pulls your skin upwards inside the cup, which is then either left there for several minutes – called “parked cupping” or the cup remains in motion with the therapist using gliding techniques across the skin with a lubricating massage oil before being removed. Many people will benefit from cupping therapy in many ways, not just athletes. Check with your massage therapist to see if cupping is right for you and your health conditions.

What Are The Side Effects Of Cupping Therapy?

The most obvious side effects of cupping are typically the infamous round marks, which look like “bruises” though they are not. The capillaries are opened to release metabolic waste – “congestion” in muscle tissue – aka “toxins.” The marks do not hurt like a bruise at all and they will naturally disappear within seven to ten days, depending on how much “congestion” the client has in their system that was released and how long the cups may have been left “parked” on the client to release that congestion.

Is Cupping Therapy For You?

As with all other forms of medicine, different people can have different responses to cupping therapy. While the majority of healthy people will be able to benefit from it, there are some who should be extra cautious. This includes young children, senior citizens, women who are pregnant or menstruating, and people taking blood thinners. So talk to your medical health professional to determine if cupping therapy is the most appropriate treatment for your needs.