What is cupping? It’s a Chinese Medicine technique that can be referred to by a few different names: fire cupping, flash cupping, static cupping, slide cupping and naval cupping. The techniques differ but the idea is the same. Cupping is the process by which a cup, usually made of glass or silicone, is suctioned to the skin on various parts of the body. This can be done by inserting a lit cotton ball inside the cup, quickly removing it and placing the cup on the skin (fire cupping), or by pinching the silicone cup, squeezing out the air and placing it on the skin. From here the cup can remain in place (static cupping), or if the skin is lubricated with a thin layer of oil the practitioner can slide it around (slide cupping). They may remove and reapply the cup in quick succession creating a loud popping sound (flash cupping). Another technique used for low belly issues, such as painful menstruation, urinary issues and digestive issues, is when the cup is placed over the navel and left in place for a period of time (navel cupping).
Cupping has been used for thousands of years, with some of the first ‘cups’ being made from segments of bamboo. It is an ancient practice with roots in Chinese medicine that improves blood circulation and purifies the body by drawing the toxins to the surface of the skin where the immune system is better able to eliminate them.
When would you want to use cupping?
Cupping has a lot of potential applications. You may want to try cupping if you are starting to feel sick, or if you are recovering from a cold and want to help boost your body’s ability to heal. It can be helpful for digestive issues such as irritable bowel disease. Commonly, cupping is used to alleviate stiff or sore muscles, a frozen shoulder or temporary paralysis in the body. When I was studying at a Chinese medicine hospital in Chengdu China I worked on a patient who, after having a tumor removed from his brain suffered one sided facial paralysis. We did treatments which included flash cupping on the affected side of his face. In a short period of time we noticed improvement in both sensation and movement.
Cupping has also made its way into popular culture. You may remember seeing Michael Phelps, the most successful and decorated olympian of all time, with red circular marks over his body. He and many other high level athletes use cupping to relieve tension in the muscles and perform at a world class level. One of the benefits of cupping is that it works in a different yet complementary way to massage. Instead of being pressed, like during a massage, the skin is lifted, creating a light, spacious feeling in the otherwise heavy, dense tissue.
How can you expect to feel after a cupping treatment?
Most people feel very relaxed after a cupping session. You can expect to see bruises where the cups were. The darkness of the bruises often reflects how stiff and tight the muscles are or how strong the pathogen in the body was. The bruises should disappear within 3-10 days. Staying warm and hydrated after a treatment is a great way to deepen and prolong the benefits of the session. You may want to avoid cupping when you are feeling especially weak, during menstruation or recovering from severe or chronic illness.
While it is probably most enjoyable to have a treatment in a professional space, it can also be done at home with your own set of silicone cups. We sell the Fascia Buddy set at Jade Wellness. They are inexpensive, easy to use but a bit tricky to apply to your own back. That said, most people should be able to use them successfully on other parts of their body. When used at the first sign of a cold or flu, cupping can help prevent the pathogen from settling into your body. Cups are a great tool to have in your toolkit.
Cupping is an incredible, sacred tradition that has withstood the test of time. It has transcended ancient medicine and is used by many other practitioners including massage therapists and physiotherapists. Check it out for yourself!
By Erin Potter