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Cupping Therapy

One of the oldest and most effective methods to ease pain

Chinese Cupping

Cupping therapy is one of the oldest and most effective methods of releasing tensions and stress from the body. Ancient Chinese text suggests Cupping Therapy has been around for over three thousand years and was recommended for lung conditions. Cupping Therapy is also known as vacuum cupping, Chinese cupping, hijama cupping, and fire cupping. Cupping involves placing specialised glass cups onto specific areas of the body. Traditionally they are placed in order to help break up stagnation and congestion. Using a strong vacuum to draw congested blood, energy and Chi. There are a few ways that a Cupping practitioner can create suction in the cups. One way is by placing an inverted cup over a small flame using an alcohol-cotton pad. This technique creates a vacuum within the cup itself. Flames are never used near the skin and are a means to create the heat that causes the suction within the glass cups.


Its pressure from the vacuum within the cup causes the tissue to be stretched and drawn into the cup. As the cups pull, blood and energy flow to the affected area. Cupping creates a more profound sense of relaxation as they stretch the body’s fascia, nerves and connective tissue beneath. Traditionally, blood flow under the cups draws impurities and toxins away from the nearby tissues and organs towards the surface for elimination. Cupping therapy is often used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The results that simple `Cupping Therapy produces are impressive.

Chinese Cupping can be added to almost any treatment and often works well with MassageAcupuncturePhysiotherapyOsteopathy or bodywork session. The action of Cupping therapy on the nervous system is highly relaxing. The patient will often experience a deep state of relaxation and no soreness after treatment. 

Chinese Cupping 1

Cupping can be applied easily to any area of the body. A favourite spot for Chinese Cupping is on the broad area of the back. Often larger cups are used. The warmed cup creates a strong vacuum when placed onto the muscle without discomfort.

Chinese Cupping may be static, and the cups are left in place. Or with movement as the therapist slides the cups along the affected area. Cupping is intended to move fluid and is designed to stimulate muscle, and ease away stubborn knots and areas of rigid tissue. The skin will often turn red after cupping, indicating that circulation has been brought to the surface.

Application of liniments, analgesics, plant hydrosols and essential oils immediately after the treatment will facilitate the absorption of the product deep into the tissue. The increased local blood supply to the muscles and skin will bring nourishment and allow toxins to be carried away through the veins. Patients often feel deep warmth during the session and a tingling sensation long after the treatment has ended.


What does cupping treat?

People mostly use Cupping Therapy to help relieve conditions that cause stress or pain. Some people say it also helps with ongoing health conditions that require management. Chinese Cupping may ease symptoms of:

  • Arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Back, neck, knee and shoulder pain.
  • Breathing problems, such as asthma.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Colds and respiratory disorders
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel disease (IBD).
  • Headaches, tension and migraines.
  • High blood pressure (hypertension).
  • Insomnia 
  • Muscle tension
  • Stress and tension

There are two main uses of cupping:

Stationary cupping is used in TCM to clear stagnation of blood; to facilitate the release of pathogenic factors; and to dispel internal heat. Cups are placed on the skin and left for five to 15 minutes. Four to six cups may also be applied and then removed cyclically in a technique called flash cupping. Both methods are commonly used for treating lung congestion and for removing heat from the body. The stimulation on the back, over the lungs, activates the ciliary escalator of the lungs and facilitates expectoration of congested material. The other action is to bring heat from the lungs to the surface of the skin to be eliminated. Stationary cupping sometimes results in rings and circles on the back as toxins and blood move to the surface.

Cupping used for massage is the more common form among practitioners of Western healing arts. Before applying the cups, administer plenty of oil on the areas to be cupped, to facilitate smooth movement. Take this opportunity to palpate areas of tension and congestion. Place the cup on the area, grasp it with one or two hands, and begin to glide it over the skin. The movement should be smooth, without pressing down, as this will inhibit the suction effect.

Cupping Therapy

Almost all body areas may be worked on, including the neck, shoulders, middle and low back, and sacrum. The stomach, hips and thighs require a gentler Cupping. During treatment, the practitioner will watch closely to determine the circulatory reaction to the cups. The practitioner will adjust the suction as needed. It is a good idea to start with a medium to light pressure and increase slowly. Marks from the cupping are likely to occur with strong cupping – while this may be considered beneficial in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is important to understand that cupping often leaves marks for a few days after treatment.

Chinese Cupping 2

Using Cupping for Massage

Cupping massage can feel quite unique. Some of the most enjoyable aspects of this technique are the subtle nuances and depth of the massage. Cupping massage can create pressure and speed to produce amazingly different sensations. The edge of the cup can be used to “scoop” in a cross-fibre massage movement. The massage can feel amazing on the hips, thighs and shoulders. Gently sliding the cups using longer strokes up and down the sides of the spine will ease muscular tension and back pain. Cupping Therapy may be used to work along the ribs to improve ribcage expansion and breathing. Many conditions respond well to cupping, including fibromyalgia, stiffness, old muscle tensions, deep tissue stiffness, spondylosis, worn discs, anxiety, insomnia, post-injury trauma, chronic pain, post-surgery adhesions, cellulite and sluggish colon.

Face Cupping

Massage cupping continues to evolve as new equipment is located and creative applications are discovered. A small micro-cup set has led to a new technique used to drain and lift the face, loosening tight facial muscles and stimulating blood flow to the skin. Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders also respond well. This is a quick yet effective addition to a facial, massage or body treatment.

One way to begin to learn more about this incredible therapy is to experience it. There are not many massage-cupping practitioners at this time, yet interest is growing as more therapists are exposed to this technique. Massage cupping is sure to prove itself a viable addition to our efforts in assisting our clients on their healing path.

A Cup of History

Cupping developed over time from the original use, by various indigenous peoples, of hollow animal horns to drain toxins out of snakebites and skin lesions. Horns evolved into bamboo cups, which were eventually replaced by glass. Therapeutic applications evolved with the refinement of the cup itself, and with the cultures that employed cupping as a health-care technique.

The Chinese expanded the use of this technique to surgery to divert blood flow from the surgery site. Cupping eventually developed into a separate therapy under the TCM umbrella, with healers trained specifically in this technique. Other ancient cultures, including the Egyptians and early Greeks, embraced the therapeutic value of cupping. The technique eventually spread throughout Europe and later to the Americas.

Cupping was common in households of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. Indeed, many people still remember Grandma cupping their back for congestion and colds. European and American doctors used cupping into the late 1800s, and cupping sets were still carried by medical-supply companies well into the 1940s. Breast cupping became common for inflamed breasts and lactation dysfunctions, and the familiar breast pump evolved from this practice.

Clients respond to the experience with positive feedback, often reporting that the treatment stayed with them longer than most sessions and was cumulative in its effects.

“I had pain in my upper arms for over 20 years in a specific spot where the mid-deltoid meets the lateral side of the biceps” says Gail Gordon.  “Within three months [of monthly cupping sessions] the pain was completely gone. I have more range of motion than I have had in years in that area.”

Brenda Sinners, a massage-cupping practitioner, says cupping visibly improved one client’s knee injury.

“I only did a bit of the cupping around her knee, but that led me to her hip, around the piriformis, of the same side” she says. “I actually parked it there for a few minutes when she said she could feel it in her knee. When she got up, her knee was less swollen, plus she could walk with no limp.”


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