Chinese suction cup therapy is a technique that has been used for thousands of years, but has recently gained attention in the media due to its use by professional athletes for pain and for injury relief. Chinese suction cups come in various shapes and sizes and can be made of different materials such as silicone, bamboo, glass and plastic. At Advanced Holistic Center, we use glass cups with suction as a method of vacuum cupping therapy. The glass cups are placed on the skin and a small pump is attached. Cupping therapy is then performed by creating a vacuum on the skin to disperse stagnant blood and toxins. The tissue is then pulled up inside the cup using a vacuum created by a suction device or using the traditional “fire-cupping” method (for safety and efficiency reasons, we don’t do fire-cupping at our office).
In cupping therapy, congested blood is drawn to the surface, while fresh blood and lymph are stimulated in the affected area. As a result, there is a decrease in pain, stiffness, and tension. Cupping may cause the skin to temporarily turn red, blue or purple. This is generally a good sign as it indicates that there was an energetic block in the area. After the cups are removed, dark red or even purple marks will remain in the areas with the most congestion. These marks are not the same as bruises, and will fade after a few days. Red marks indicate heat, while more purple marks indicate stagnation of blood. These marks are not painful and should only last a few days to a week. There are many different methods of cupping, but the two most popular are, fixed cupping and sliding cupping. In fixed cupping, cups are placed on a specific area and are left on the skin until they are taken off. Sliding cupping involves adding massage oil or a liniment and moving the cups along a certain area. Cupping is often done on the back, but is great for other fleshier areas of the body as well. The beneficial effects of cupping are noticeable right away, and many people notice immediate improvement of their symptoms.
A lot of people ask us about cupping treatment, these days. Some of our patients even come to us and specifically request this technique for their treatments. That’s both good and bad, since cupping really is a great tool but not always appropriate for certain conditions. If you’re curious about cupping therapy, we recommend that a licensed Chinese medicine practitioner evaluate you to find out if it’s appropriate for your condition.
One of the first things that people ask about cupping therapy is, does it hurt? Despite the colorful marks made from cupping, it should not be painful. You can think of cupping as a massage in reverse, but instead of pressing into the tissue, the tissue is lifted up and blood and lymph is drawn to the area. Cupping is said to improve circulation to problem areas, releasing tension in the muscle.
In a cupping treatment, a cup is placed on the skin and either heat or a pump will be used to create the suction on the skin. Glass cups are often heated with fire to reduce oxygen, thus creating the suction inside the cups. The heat is then removed and the cup is placed with the open side directly on your skin. Many offices, including Advanced Holistic Center, now use pumps instead of heat to further control the amount of suction created. The amount of suction applied depends on the individual patient’s needs and tolerance.
When the cup is applied to the skin, the air inside the cup creates a vacuum that draws the skin and muscle upward into the cup. The skin may turn red or purple as the blood vessels respond to the suction. In a stationary cup treatment, the cup is set on a certain area of the body, usually between 5 and 15 minutes. In a sliding cup treatment, liniment or massage oil is applied to the skin, and the cups are moved along channels of the body in order to create a “reverse massage” effect. This is usually done for several minutes, or until color is brought to the surface.
Cupping is usually performed in combination with acupuncture treatments. At Advanced Holistic Center, we generally perform cupping following an acupuncture treatment.
Red or purple marks often indicate a successful cupping treatment, meaning that the stagnant blood was released and brought to the surface. Marks are often seen on the skin following treatment and will usually go away within 10 days of a cupping session. Cupping is generally considered a safe therapy, however, there are some side effects that you may experience during or directly following treatment. These side effects include: lightheadedness or dizziness during your treatment. Some people have also reported sweating or nausea following cupping treatment.
There is also a small risk of infection after receiving cupping therapy. This risk is very small and can usually be avoided if your provider follows the correct protocol for performing the technique. This includes properly cleaning the skin and tools prior to preforming cupping.
The marks made from cupping are due to the bringing of blood to the surface, similar to a bruise. It is for this reason that cupping may be contraindicated for patients with bleeding disorders such as hemophilia or who are taking anticoagulants. People with these conditions should discuss their condition with their acupuncturist or doctor before receiving cupping. Cupping should not be performed over skin open wounds including: active inflammation, burns, or infection. Some discomfort may occur with cupping but should not be considered a side effect. Moderate, temporary discomfort is to be expected as the connective tissue and muscles of the effected area are loosened.
Cupping can be effectively used to treat a wide variety of conditions. It is primarily used for musculoskeletal conditions, helping to ease injury and general muscle aches and pains. In addition to treating pain related issues, cupping can also treat many other conditions including colds, cough, digestive conditions, skin conditions and more. When a Chinese medicine practitioner performs cupping, channel theory will often be applied. This means that the cups will be used along the meridians of the body and will target certain acupuncture points.
In 2012, the journal PLoS One published a review supporting the positive effects of cupping. The study reported that cupping therapy may be helpful in treating: herpes zoster, facial paralysis, cough and dyspnea, acne, and back pain due to lumbar disc herniation and cervical spondylitis. The journal reported however, that most of the reviewed studies contained a high level of bias. More research is being done on cupping, and more studies are needed to determine the efficacy of cupping.
Facial cupping is used as part of a holistic facial rejuvenation treatment. Facial cupping uses the same principles as body cupping, however, the techniques are different. The cups used for facial cupping are smaller than the cups used for body cupping. The intention of facial cupping is to gently stimulate the area, without leaving marks. The facial cups are applied to the face and are used to gently pull the skin up. The stimulation helps increases blood flow, lymphatic drainage and helps to give the skin a rejuvenating glow. With regular treatment, facial cupping can help to improve facial complexion and help to improve fine lines.
In a facial cupping treatment, the suction of the cup will pull the skin into the cup. This helps to stimulate the blood in the surrounding area, saturating the dermis with fresh circulation. For this reason, facial cupping can help: promote rich blood circulation, strengthen skin, stimulate collagen, relax muscle or jaw tension. Immediately following a facial cupping treatment, you may notice a brightening of the skin and decreased puffiness. After several treatments, you may begin to notice fine lines and wrinkles begin to fade.
In contrast with body cupping, the goal is to not leave bruising, however, sometimes there can be marks left behind. It is for this reason that we do not advise getting facial acupuncture or facial cupping directly prior to a big event.
At Advanced Holistic Center, we also offer facial rejuvenation treatments. During these sessions, facial cupping is combined with facial acupuncture. Facial acupuncture helps to address any systemic underlying deficiencies, while also targeting the skin of the face, improving circulation and giving the skin a revitalizing glow.
If you now near the New York City area, come in and try our cupping therapy. Our NYC based traditional Chinese medicine cupping massage (TCM cupping) has been featured in various news outlets.