Cupping Therapy: Muscle Magic for the Weekend Warrior

What is cupping therapy? This ancient Chinese medical practice dates back more than 2,000 years, and is used to improve blood flow, reduce inflammation, release toxins and relieve muscle tension.

Several different types of cups are used in cupping therapy including glass, plastic and silicone. With glass cups, flame is used to create a vacuum  that sucks the oxygen out of the cups to create a seal against the skin of the affected areas. When plastic cups are used, air is sucked out using a hand pump. Silicone cups also exist.  Those are pressed until the air escapes to create a suction. Silicone cups are not widely used by acupuncturists in cupping therapy because it is hard to control the suction of silicone cups.  Sometimes, a water-based lubricant is used on the skin surface prior to cupping to allow the practitioner to slide the cups along a muscle or affected area. Cupping therapy brings blood and lymph to an affected area to facilitate healing and also opens pores to allow toxins to exit the body.  The cups are left on for five to 10 minutes and may leave circular marks, which can take up to seven days to go away, depending on the level of stagnation or toxins released from the treated area. The sensation of cupping is typically described as feeling like a massage.

Cupping therapy helps athletes improve performance by reducing muscle stiffness, cramps and aches, but is also used by non-athletes who suffer from muscle aches. Cupping therapy may also be used on the chest and upper back at the start of a cold or fever to release toxins, reduce fever, break up phlegm and speed healing.

Smaller facial cups (that look like cups with a bike horn handle on top) are sometimes used to relieve TMJ and jaw tension and open the sinuses. In order to NOT leave cupping marks, an oil such as jojoba is applied to the face and the cups are slid along the muscles of the face rather than left to draw out toxins. Since these cups are smaller and the suction is easy to control, they are also often used on children. When these cups are used on children, they are left on the body to create the same suction effect as regular cups.

Acupuncture works to relieve pain by releasing endorphins and blocking pain receptors. Acupuncture is effective for other ailments, too, because it works to balance the sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous systems, allowing your body to release the right hormones at the right time to achieve balance (homeostasis.)  When coupled with cupping therapy, acupuncture can treat both physical and psychological stress and enhances the healing effects of cupping.