Cupping therapy is one of the oldest methods of traditional Chinese medicine. In China,
cupping is used primarily to treat respiratory conditions such as bronchitis, asthma, and
congestion; arthritis; gastrointestinal disorders; and pain. Some practitioners also use
cupping to treat depression, anxiety, fatigue and to reduce swelling. Fleshy sites on the
body, such as the back and stomach (and, to a lesser extent, the arms and legs), are
the most common sites for treatment.
How does cupping work?
In a typical cupping session, glass cups are warmed using a cotton ball which is
soaked in alcohol, lit on fire, then placed inside the cup. Burning a substance inside the
cup removes all the oxygen, which creates a vacuum.
As the substance burns, the cup is turned upside-down so that the practitioner can
place the cup over a specific area. (The lit cotton ball is generally removed from the cup
at this point.) The vacuum created by the lack of oxygen anchors the cup to the skin
and pulls it upward on the inside of the glass as the air inside the jar cools. Drawing up
the skin is believed to open up the skin’s pores, which helps to stimulate the flow of
blood and creates an avenue for toxins to be drawn out of the body.
Depending on the condition being treated, the cups will be left in place from 5 to 15
minutes. Several cups may be placed on a patient’s body at the same time. Some
practitioners will also apply small amounts of herbal oils to the skin just before the
cupping procedure, which lets them move the cups up and down acupuncture points.
Once the suction has occurred, the cups can be gently moved across the skin. The
suction in the cups causes the skin and superficial muscle layer to be lightly drawn into
the cup. Cupping is much like the inverse of massage - rather than applying pressure to
muscles, it uses gentle pressure to pull them upward. For most patients, this is a
The suction from the cups pulls toxins deep in the tissues to the surface. It can appear
as light pink to a dark purple marks on the body. The more discoloration that surfaces
the greater amount of stagnation and toxicity needs to be purged from the body.
What causes the dark purple bruising?
Contrary to popular belief they are NOT bruises. These purple marks are the expression
of internal stagnation and congestion brought to the surface of the body. They do not
appear on everyone, only those with a significant amount of congestion, poor blood flow
and lymph drainage. Those who are relatively healthy will not have these marks while
those with severe muscle tightness, headaches, painful periods and various kinds of
musculoskeletal pain will often show with purple-black marks. These marks are both
therapeutic (as they bring the stagnation out of the tissues and to the surface, where it
can resolve), and diagnostic (the amount and nature of the discoloration gives an insight
into the patient’s condition). As stagnation and toxicity are released the subsequent
cupping sessions will have little to no discoloration.
Generally, cupping is combined with acupuncture in one treatment, but it can also be
used alone. The suction and negative pressure provided by cupping can loosen
muscles, encourage blood flow, and sedate the nervous system. Cupping is used to
relieve back and neck pains, stiff muscles, anxiety, fatigue, migraines, high blood
pressure, rheumatism, and even cellulite.
This traditional treatment is favored by many people because it’s safe and effective for
many health disorders.
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