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What Is Cupping Therapy?

When celebrities like Jennifer Anniston and Michael Phelps appeared with marks on their backs, many people wondered what they were. The answer was they were the byproduct of cupping therapy.

What is it?

Cupping is an ancient form of therapy where the therapist puts special glass or silicone cups on the skin for a few minutes to create suction that helps with pain, detoxification, and inflammation. Because the suction and negative pressure provided by cupping can loosen muscles, encourage blood flow, and sedate the nervous system.

Cupping originated in Egyptian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern cultures. In fact, one of the oldest medical textbooks, the Ebers Papyrus, describes how the ancient Egyptians used it in 1,550 B.C.

How is it done?

In one method, the therapist puts a flammable substance such as alcohol or paper in a round, glass cup and lights it. As the fire goes out, the therapist puts the cup upside down on the skin. As the air cools, it creates a vacuum which causes the skin to rise (and redden) as the blood vessels expand. The cup can be moved around or left in place, generally for up to 3 minutes. A more modern version uses a pump to create a vacuum inside the cup.

While both methods leave red or purple circular marks (the more stagnant the blood, the darker they appear), these marks start to fade in a day or two and disappear altogether in seven to ten days. If you’re about to go on a beach vacation, and you embarrass easily, it’s probably a good idea to schedule the cupping after you return!

What to expect?

The treatment is not painful. In fact, it feels pretty good. The suction rapidly facilitates rigid soft tissue release, loosens & lifts connective tissue, breaks up and drains stagnation while increasing blood & lymph flow to skin & muscles in ways not possible using compression.

Extra caution should be taken for the following groups:

  • Children: Under 4 years old shouldn't receive cupping therapy.

  • Older children should be only treated for very short period.

  • Seniors: Our skin becomes more fragile as we age. Any medication you may be taking might have an effect as well.

  • Pregnant People: Avoid cupping the abdomen and lower back.

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