What is Cupping?


No, those purple polka-dotted marks seen on Michael Phelps and Justin Bieber aren't hickies — they are the result of a therapy called "cupping." With its popularity in social media, there has been an increased trend and awareness of this form of treatment.

Last year, there was a 20 percent increase in the purchases of cupping therapy equipment according to Reuters. Practitioners have been perking their ears as well, with a 50 percent increase in healthcare practitioners seeking their cupping certificates.

What is cupping?

Cupping is an ancient form of healing therapy that is part of the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) discipline, with over 2000 years of recorded history. Using fire to create suction, therapists place specially designed cups in strategic locations along your back.

Traditionally, cups may be made of either glass, porcelain, or bamboo. Many therapists today may use plastic cups designed to fit with a manual suction pump, which creates the same effect.

As the air inside the cup cools a suction is created, and pulls the skin upwards inside the cup. This draws blood closer towards the surface of the skin, moving stagnant circulation and improving energy flow. Cups are left on the skin for generally 10 minutes before being removed.


What are the polka-dot bruises?

Once the cups are removed after a cupping session, you may find circular red or purple marks where the cup was placed. While these marks look like bruises, they are simply the result of blood rising towards the surface of the skin and are actually painless. In fact, the color of these marks indicate the level of circulation in that area of the body. The healthier your circulation, the lighter its color and the faster the mark goes away. Areas with poor circulation will often have darker, purple marks that go away generally in 3-5 days.

Does cupping hurt?

When provided by a trained professional, cupping therapy does not hurt. Many describe the experience as deeply relaxing, with sore muscles and cramps going away with as little as one treatment.


Why get cupping?

Cupping therapy is used for many different purposes, including pain management, treating inflammation, improving circulation, anti-aging, increasing energy, deep relaxation, and general well-being.

According to a study published in 2015 by the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, cupping therapy has been shown to be an effective treatment for various health conditions including:

  • acne
  • herpes zoster
  • paralysis
  • pain management

Another study published in 2012 by PLoS One with data from 135 cases has found that cupping is effective treatment for:

  • herpes zoster
  • facial paralysis (Bells palsy)
  • cough and dyspnea
  • acne
  • lumbar disc herniation
  • cervical spondylosis

Other conditions treated by cupping as listed by the British Cupping Society include:

  • anemia
  • hemophilia
  • arthritis
  • fibromyalgia
  • fertility or gynecological disorders
  • eczema
  • high blood pressure
  • migraines
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • allergies
  • asthma
  • varicose veins

Is cupping right for me?

When provided by a trained and experienced professional, cupping is completely safe. When searching for a cupping therapist, you should get to know your therapist's background and practice:

  • What is the therapist's training?
  • What is the therapist's experience using cupping?
  • Is cupping the best treatment for my condition?
  • What conditions does the therapist's practice treat?
  • Are there any reasons why cupping is not right for me?

Prior to getting treatment, you may want to consult with your primary care physician.


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