The theory goes that it forces the qi and blood to move. Just as massage kneads the body to get things loose and moving, cupping uses a suction action to create the movement. It’s a bit like getting the vacuum attached to you. Honestly, it’s an odd feeling at first, but it feels amazing when the cups come off.
I use it for two main reasons. To stimulate the immune system in the case of colds/flus and pain relief.
I mostly use it for pain relief. First, muscles get tight, then you feel knots. These knots can then go on to cause headaches. Also, fascia or connective tissue pull on muscles causing pain and decreased range of motion…think hunching over a computer all day. By pulling up on the muscles it releases them from the connective tissue which allows the muscles to release contractions (knots) and increase mobility and range of motion. It also forces the blood to circulate through the muscle, which is a challenge if the muscle is locked up in contraction. In Chinese terms we are moving qi & blood. In English, we are loosening tight muscles.
One of the big muscles that benefits from cupping is the trapezius. It goes from mid back up over the shoulders and attaches at the base of the skull. If you are really tight it starts to pull on the base of your skull and look out here comes the headache. So now you not only have knots in your shoulders but a headache as well.
Cupping also increases blood and lymph circulation in the local area, so some believe it helps the body to detoxify in sluggish areas.
On the western medical front, research shows that it causes a histamine release which stimulates the immune system. Specifically, the “red marks” you see is what initiates the release of histamines that stimulate the immune system. This is the modern explanation of why it helps to get cupping when you feel a cold coming on. If you get cupping, in combination with herbs and rest, you can head off a cold before it starts. Another reason to come in for an appointment at the first sign of catching a cold instead of waiting until you have suffered for a week.
I use cupping on myself frequently & I’m not alone. Here is a picture of an Olympic swimmer in London last summer. Many athletes get great relief from hard training using cupping. If you want to be loose and ready to take on the competition, you can’t be sore and tied up in knots. Does it hurt? No, not really. It really eases the tension and muscles and you feel so much better after the treatment.
Some of you may remember some time back that Gweneth Paltrow had cupping done on her and forgot about the marks when she wore a strapless dress to an event. Hey, I love it when celebrities give us a little publicity. And she is a long-time user of Chinese Medicine. Love that!
My suggestion is to give it a try the next time you have knots in your shoulders or suffering from tension headaches. In fact, I think you will become addicted.
If you’ve had cupping leave a comment and share with us.