Chinese Cupping

Chinese Cupping

The practice of Chinese Cupping has been around a very long time dating back as far as 1500 B.C. when ancient Egyptians used it to treat fevers, vertigo, menstrual imbalances, poor appetite, pain and a variety of other health conditions.  Later herbalists began using it as a method for relieving pain and inducing relaxation.  In theory cupping can promote blood flow to knotted areas and expel toxins from stagnant blood that has settled there.  Here is a chart below to show the different colors of cupping marks that reveals the severity of congestion.

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My Story

I was experiencing some back spasms and pain in my low back.  I decided to give cupping a try.  At my first appointment my acupuncturist warned me that the suction would be pretty intense and that there would be circular marks left that could last 8-10 days.  He wasn’t kidding, I was shocked at how hard these little things pulled and tugged at my muscles.  He used glass cups and covered every inch of my back with them.  Oddly the areas where I had the most pain left the darkest colored circles.  I was told that was because I had toxins and stagnant blood sitting there for a long time. Wherever there are muscle knots there won’t be good blood flow to the tissue.     

Cups are made of glass, bamboo and plastic materials like silicon.  Let’s take a look at the different types of cupping procedures and their uses.  

Massage Cupping

Silicon cups

Silicon cups

Many massage therapists use silicon cupping during their massages.  This is a much milder form of cupping and can be very relaxing for the client.  The therapist will oil the clients back and depress a silicon cup at the top of the muscle and slowly drag it up and down. These cups are not heated to apply suction as the glass and bamboo ones are so the suction is way less powerful.  Suction only comes from depressing it down onto the body.  It creates a pulling sensation which is really the opposite of a massage.  I had a massage therapist who used this form of cupping and I found it to be very relaxing.  The whole idea behind cupping is pulling and drawing tight muscles up and away and increasing blood flow to tight knotted areas of the body.  

Dry Cupping

Glass cups

Glass cups

Bamboo cups

Bamboo cups

Acupuncturists use dry cupping in tandem with acupuncture.  I wasn’t sure what to expect on my first visit but I must say it was a more intense sensation than I thought it would be.  My acupuncturist use the glass cups and the intensity of suction was shocking.  The acupuncturist started with less aggressive cups which varied in size and then moved up to more powerful cups as he loosened up my muscles.  He would heat the inside which creates a natural suction as he quickly placed them all over my back.  Then he would watch the skin coloration and determine how long to leave them in place.  Usually it was just a minute or two and sometimes longer if my skin turned dark right away. My back was definitely a sight to see after my first session.  Make sure you don’t have an event planned where your neck or back will be exposed for at least a couple of weeks.  It’s not pretty.   

Here's what to expect...

Here's what to expect...

Cupping is not a one and done kind of treatment.  Most people that get cupping done have been suffering with pain for a very long time.  This was my case.  I had terrible back spasms and my back felt tight and sore for several years.  Each time I weekly visited my acupuncturist he would do cupping and acupuncture.  Little by little I did start to feel improvements.  At first I would feel better for a day or two after and then I would relapse in a few days.  Each time I went back I was slowly improving.  Each session was a little bit different.  One of the sessions he cupped my quads. They were very tight and pinched where the cups were placed.  There isn’t as much bruising when you cup the legs because blood flow is always good in areas where you are moving a lot. I did however get some cup marks on my quads.  The next morning I did not feel well at all, I had a very weird headache and I was very nauseated.  After speaking to my acupuncturist and doing research on my own I found out that this is very common. It supports that there are toxins being released into our system and it’s possible we may feel the affects of them.  I felt sick for about two days.  This was further supported when my son called me not feeling so well after he had just had his calves cupped.  He had no idea that nausea and a headache could accompany the treatment but because I had just experienced it I let him know that was likely the cause.  He had the same symptoms as I did and it lasted just a day or two.  My acupuncturist told me that he has had some patients who have thrown up right in the office.  Everyone is a little different so it’s hard to know how each will react.  

I continued on with the treatment and after the 5th session my acupuncturist suggested we do wet cupping.  Oh boy, I had seen the pictures of this online and said I would never do it.  After we discussed it and he assured me I would only loose a couple of Tablespoons of blood, I decided to go ahead with it. When a patient is taking longer to clear, which means if you are still getting marks from dry cupping after quite a few sessions, then wet cupping is usually suggested to speed the process by eliminating the toxins right out of the body. 

Wet Cupping

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Wet cupping is a more aggressive form of Chinese Cupping.  Tiny punctures are made in a circle. It feels a lot like when you get your finger pricked for a blood test, so not too painful.  Then the cup is heated and placed over to draw out the stagnant blood settled in these knotted areas. In the areas of my back where I had the most pain the blood was very dark and tarry.  This is a sign that there hasn’t been any fresh blood flow to that area for a long time.  Once the old blood is drawn out fresh blood is pulled into the area.  I went back a week later and he did dry cupping on me with acupuncture.  I had very few cup marks which is telling that most of the toxins have been removed.  I plan to go back again next week and see what he has in store for me.  I will follow up with a post to let you know how things are going. I'm told that a patient usually sees the most results after about 10 treatments.  I am at about 7 so I have a few more to go.  Overall I think cupping is a great alternative for pain relief.