Home » Blog

What’s All the Hype About Cupping?

Cupping In The Modern Context

Michael Phelps Olympic Swimmer

You’ve probably seen the telltale uniform round marks on the backs of amateur and professional athletes that look a little like crop circles. Cupping has received some visibility in the media recently as celebrities and athletes share their engagement with Chinese Medicine.  Cupping is a form of therapy that has been used for thousands of years across several cultures. We now see physical therapists and massage practitioners adopting it into their toolkits.

Cupping is a common modality you might see used next to an acupuncture treatment or on its own. If it’s your first time being pulled into the experience, it’s probably unlike any sensation you’ve felt in the past. Opposite to the inward direction of a massage; the skin, connective tissues and muscles are pulled outwards and stretched with varying degrees of pressure. This motion increases blood and lymphatic circulation as well as it stretches fascia and muscle.

Is Cupping Painful?

Cupping is an entirely comfortable modality when it is administered in an appropriate way next to the client.  Why the dark bruises, you ask?  Most often the dark round marks you’ll see in the media are on professional athletes who are resilient and are undergoing a strong course of treatment. During treatment, if cupping marks appear quickly, that’s an indication of stagnation (or lack of good quality circulation in the area). One explanation I share with clients is that the micro circulation in our tiniest blood vessels (the capillaries), is not at its greatest when surrounding tissues are tight and congested. In these circumstances, the surrounding tissues don’t receive the best supply of blood but when we cause those small blood vessels to break (causing the bruising), we force new blood into the area.

All that being said, an aggressive treatment that causes marking isn’t always the goal. Sometime a gentler approach is required to accommodate the comfort of the client or may be more appropriate for a client’s particular condition.

Various Styles of Cupping

Typically, most practitioners you’ll find use stationary cupping (cups are placed in an area and left there for the duration of the treatment) to treat musculoskeletal pain. More sophisticated forms of Chinese cupping therapy can target internal organ, PMS symptoms and respiratory disease. Working with nervous system disorders affecting the face such as Bell’s Palsy or stroke, cups are reapplied multiple times in brief intervals on the patient’s face.

In this video, you’ll notice additional stretching offered through movement of the cups along the back.  This gentle and relaxing method provides additional feedback to the recipient’s nervous system through the movement of the cups reinforcing the therapeutic effect.

How Does Cupping Work?

Several theories around the mechanism of action for cupping exist from existing research.  Some of the more popular ideas include:

  • Similarly to how acupuncture works; through stimulating production of the body’s pain relieving system of opioids generated in the body.
  • Increasing blood circulation and supporting the exchange of gases and wastes.
  • Through the stimulation of the rest and digestion portion of the nervous system, allowing tight muscles to relax as a result.
  • By loosening scarring in muscles and connective tissue.
  • Through the draining of excess fluids in tissue by stimulating the lymphatic system.

If you are curious about cupping, contact me to book an appointment. Cupping can be performed on its own but it’s usually offered as an adjunct to acupuncture.

Dietary Strategies for Better Health


Optimal health exists when we adapt our lifestyle and diet to support our health.  Failing to recognize that everyday habits contribute to the root of health problems, we can end up chasing symptoms endlessly and develop more serious conditions.  Quality of life is the goal of healthy habits.  Watch your pain, systemic inflammation, bowel habits, energy levels all shift with improved routines around food.

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to take in foods that will make you feel amazing.  Cultivating body-based mindfulness can help you drop into your body to gather information on how useful something is for you.  While you’re eating get in touch with your bodily sensations and notice how you feel after you take those mouthfuls in.  Do you feel energized?  Tired?  Thirsty?  Foggy?  Satiated?

Healthy Habits to Remember

Chew your food thoroughly.  Break down all the large pieces of food to increase the surface area the enzymes in your saliva have to work on.

Half a meal at a time.  If you have a habit of overeating, halve your portion and assess how you feel after that portion is consumed.  Overeating contributes to that hot swampy state of the intestines, especially if it’s a chronic habit.  Imagine yourself finishing until you’re satiated but not stuffed.

Save the beverages.  Speaking of enzymes, don’t wash them away with fluids before and during your meal.  Try to enjoy your meals without an accompanying beverage, this will force you to do a better job of chewing through all of your food.

Fast and take a break from snacking. Give your internal machinery a break regularly.  If fasting is right for you (not recommended for every person, please take this up with your healthcare practitioner if you’re considering it) taking a break from processing food for several hours at a time can be beneficial.  At the very least, give yourself a four hour break between meals, avoid snacking throughout the day.

Exercising promotes healthy circulation and body temperature regulation.  Instead of using food to warm up with, try going for a run or brisk walk.

Avoid raw food trends and iced beverages. Uncooked foods take more energy to process and break down in your body.  Raw is generally not recommended unless you have a digestive system that is perfectly happy or you’re in the warmer months of the year.  This goes for iced drinks as well.  Warm water, tea and soup are ideal.

Be patient.  Change is gradual.  Stay open to reminders of where you want your health journey to go.  Habits around our relationship to food and our bodies change that take time to develop, are more likely to stick than an overnight revamping of habits.  A set of new habits may not make it in the long run if the stress of taking them on is overwhelming.  Chinese herbs, acupuncture and stress management techniques go hand in hand with using diet to improve your health.