Michael Phelps, Gwyneth Paltrow, Justin Beiber and Jeniffer Aniston among other celebs have been spotted sporting the telltale circular marks of massage cupping therapy on their bodies. And if you’re not familiar with this form of alternative medicine, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about. Indeed, massage cupping has been practiced for centuries but its popularity has seen a recent resurgence. Like most alternative medicine treatments, the primary benefit of cupping is its ability to soothe and improve the body’s overall well-being. But many practitioners and patients alike are also touting many more effects of massage cupping, some as yet unproven by modern science. So what, exactly, is massage cupping and how does it work? Here’s a beginner’s guide to help you understand the wonders of this healing modality.
What Are The Supposed Benefits Of Massage Cupping Therapy?
We use the word “supposed” because the long-term effects of cupping are still being studied.
A serious challenge to research is confounding variables, as many patients combine cupping with other treatments such as acupuncture and herbal remedies. So even when benefits are observed, it’s impossible to pinpoint the cupping as the sole factor.
The quality of existing studies on cupping is also low, because researchers rely on blinded, placebo-controlled trials. What this means is that neither the study participants nor the researchers know who gets the real cupping and who gets sham cupping.
Since cupping is a tactile treatment, it’s difficult to create convincing placebos for these trials. There are only so many ways of pretending to suction the skin!
Fortunately, there’s a growing body of anecdotal evidence from cupping enthusiasts, and the treatment is said to offer a range of potential benefits such as:
Our bodies have a robust system for removing toxins and waste from our systems (8). While we can’t initiate the detoxification process ourselves, various mechanisms help the body to do its job more efficiently by stimulating the lymphatic system and circulation.
Exercise, breathing, and massage are all examples of activities that help the body get rid of waste.
Massage cupping therapy joins the list by creating a suction that draws blood to the skin’s surface, which helps to bring more of our body’s cleansing agents (like lymph fluid and white blood cells) to areas where toxins are present (12).
Cupping helps to break down adhesions that form between muscle fibers when we become stressed or overworked. This allows for better circulation and increased flow of nutrients throughout the body.
In the process, this massage technique decreases the level of uric acid in the body, which is a by-product of stiff and inflamed muscles.
It’s no secret that chronic inflammation is at the root of many common ailments, so reducing it can help to improve overall health (1). Cupping has been shown to decrease inflammation by stimulating the body’s natural healing response. This happens in a number of ways.
First, cupping helps to open up tight muscles and fascia which allows for improved circulation (2). When the body is able to circulate more blood and oxygen, it’s better equipped to fight inflammation.
Second, it may trigger the activation of Heme oxygenase-1, a stress-response protein that acts as a natural inflammatory inhibitor (5). This powerful antioxidant also helps to reduce oxidative damage caused by free radicals, which can further contribute to inflammation (10).
Third, using counter-irritation techniques like cupping can also help to desensitize the body’s nerves, which may be overstimulated as a result of chronic inflammation.
Boosting Cellular Immunity
Cupping has been touted for its ability to boost immunity by stimulating the production of white blood cells (11). This is thought to be due to the suction and stretching involved in the treatment, which helps to activate immune cells and release cytokines (4).
In addition, cupping may also increase the body’s natural production of interferon (a type of protein that helps to fight off viruses) and tumor necrosis factor (an anti-tumor agent that can help with cancer prevention) (14).
Improving Local Anaerobiosis Metabolism
The massage technique also helps to improve metabolism in the area of the body where it’s applied. This is because cupping increases blood flow and nutrition delivery to the area, which helps to facilitate the breakdown of energy sources like glycogen (13).
As a result, more energy can be produced for muscle contraction and other metabolic processes.
Increasing Pain Tolerance
Cupping can also be used to help manage pain (7) (14). This is because it helps to desensitize nerves, as mentioned previously. It also has an analgesic effect due to the release of endorphins (our body’s natural painkillers) that occurs during a cupping session.
In addition, it helps to release fascia adhesions that can cause pain and tension in the body.
Improving Skin Health
Cupping is an amazing way to improve your skin health (14). It helps your body to release toxins that can be accumulated in the deeper layers of our skin. This process not only helps to reduce any acne, wrinkles and other blemishes, but also improves elasticity and texture in the tissue.
Cupping promotes circulation by pulling up the old, stagnant blood and toxins, which encourages the inflow of fresh oxygenated blood to nourish the cells (6). This helps to tone and lift your skin, bringing it back to life!
Plus, cupping is a great way to help reduce inflammation in any problem areas (6). So, if you’re looking for an all-natural way to improve.
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Are There Side Effects?
Cupping is generally a safe procedure but it may cause some minor side effects, such as temporary discomfort or bruising at the site of treatment. It’s important to follow the instructions of your therapist and not to exceed the recommended duration of treatment.
According to the NCCIH (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health), there is a risk of infection if the cups are not sterile, so it’s important to ensure that your therapist is using clean equipment (3).
Using the same equipment on multiple clients without sterilizing it first can also cause the spread of bacteria and other pathogens.
It’s also important to avoid cupping if you have any of the following conditions:
- Excessive dry or cracked skin – This can increase your risk of infection.
- Varicose veins – Cupping can cause them to rupture and bleed.
- Open wounds or sores – This also increases the risk of infection.
- Fractured bone or dislocated joint – Cupping can cause further damage to these areas.
- Bleeding disorders – Wet cupping can cause excessive bleeding.
- Muscle dysfunctions or spasms – Cupping can cause these to worsen.
Pregnant women should also avoid cupping as there is not enough research to verify its safety during pregnancy (9). Children should also avoid cupping unless recommended by a health professional.
What Are The Different Types Of Cupping?
There are a few different types of cupping that can be used depending on the area being treated and the desired outcome. We’ll categorize them according to technique, area of application, method of suction and materials used.
According To Technique:
A cup is placed on the skin and then suctioned with a pump or flame until it forms an airtight seal. By forming a vacuum, the cup pulls the skin and underlying tissues towards it.
This is also known as “hijama” or blood cupping. It involves making small incisions in the area being treated before using a pump to create suction. Blood is then drawn up into the cups which can help to detoxify and draw out stagnant energy from the body.
This technique is used to treat larger areas of the body. Instead of keeping a cup in one place, several cups are placed along an area of the body and then moved along it quickly.
Similar to running cupping, several cups are used but they’re moved along the body quickly and without stopping.
According To Area Of Application:
This type of cupping is used to treat the face and neck area. It uses smaller cups that are specifically designed for this purpose.
Solar Plexus Cupping
This type of cupping is used to treat the solar plexus area, which is located below the rib cage. It’s often used to help with digestive issues or to increase energy in this area.
Deep Tissue Cupping
This technique is used to treat deeper layers of muscle. It requires more pressure and often uses slightly larger cups that can reach the deeper tissue layers.
According To Method Of Suction:
Cups are placed on the body and then a hand pump is used to create an airtight seal. This is great for treating small areas or targeting specific points.
This type of suction is created using an electric device that plugs into a wall. It’s often used for larger body parts like the back or legs and can help to target a broader area at once.
This technique involves using a flame to heat the cup before it’s placed on the skin. The heat will create suction and draw up the skin and underlying tissues.
This type of cupping involves using a machine to create pulsating suction. It helps to target specific points and can be used for both dry and wet cupping.
According To Materials Used:
This is the most common type of cup used for cupping. It’s usually made out of glass and often requires manual suction to create an airtight seal.
This type of cup uses a soft silicone material that can easily be squeezed and manipulated to create suction. It’s often used for facial cupping or for people who have sensitive skin.
This type of cup is made out of bamboo which is believed to be a great conductor of energy. It’s often used in traditional wet cupping techniques and can provide a deeper, more powerful suction.
This type of cup is often used for wet cupping. It’s made out of plastic and can be easily manipulated to create suction without hand pumps or electric machines.
This type of cup is made out of clay or metal and is often used in traditional Chinese cupping. It’s believed to have a cooling effect on the body and can help to reduce inflammation.
What To Expect During A Cupping Massage
Before beginning the treatment, your therapist will discuss any concerns or areas that need special attention. During the actual cupping massage, you may feel some pressure from the cups being placed on your skin and then suctioned onto the area.
The cups will then be moved around, usually in a circular motion, to target specific points and help release tension from tight muscles.
Your therapist may incorporate other techniques such as massage oils or acupuncture during the treatment. After the cupping is complete, your therapist will remove the suction cups and clean up any residual marks.
You should expect to feel relaxed, relieved of any pain or tension and maybe even a little energized!
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How To Prepare For A Cupping Massage
Before you go in for your cupping massage, it’s important that you properly prepare. Make sure you:
- Drink plenty of water before and after the session
- Avoid alcohol or drugs 24 hours prior to your session
- Take a warm shower or bath before the treatment
- Wear comfortable clothing so that it’s easy for your therapist to access certain areas
- Let your therapist know about any medical conditions, injuries, or chronic pain you may have
Can I Do Cupping At Home?
Cupping is an effective and safe treatment method that can be done in the comfort of your own home. However, it’s important to use caution and follow these tips before attempting to do cupping at home:
- Purchase the proper materials from a reputable source
- Make sure you’re using the right technique for your desired outcome
- Start with light suction and work up to a higher strength if needed
- Do not exceed 15 minutes of total cupping time per session
- Clean the cups and your skin before and after each session
- Consult your doctor if you experience any pain or discomfort during the treatment
The Bottom Line
Cupping massage is an effective and safe treatment method that can provide numerous benefits for your health.
It’s important to follow the proper preparation steps before a session, choose the right type of cup for you, and consult with a qualified practitioner if you have any medical conditions or injuries.
With the proper knowledge and care, you can experience all of the benefits that cupping massage has to offer.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Chronic Inflammation (2022, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Clinical usage, application procedures, and perceived effectiveness of cupping therapy among healthcare professionals in the United States: A cross-sectional survey (2022, sciencedirect.com)
- Cupping | NCCIH (2018, nccih.nih.gov)
- Cupping regulates local immunomodulation to activate neural-endocrine-immune worknet (2017, sciencedirect.com)
- Cupping Therapy: An Analysis of the Effects of Suction on Skin and the Possible Influence on Human Health (2017, sciencedirect.com)
- Cupping Therapy: An Overview from a Modern Medicine Perspective (2018, sciencediret.com)
- Cupping therapy: A prudent remedy for a plethora of medical ailments (2015, sciencedirect.com)
- Detoxification pathways in the liver (1991, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Evaluation of the Effects of Traditional Cupping on the Biochemical, Hematological and Immunological Factors of Human Venous Blood (2012, researchgate.net)
- Heme Oxygenase-1 Signaling and Redox Homeostasis in Physiopathological Conditions (2021, mdpi.com)
- Immunomodulatory effects of blood letting cupping therapy in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (2005, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Is Cupping an Effective Treatment? An Overview of Systematic Reviews (2011, sciencedirect.com)
- Mode of action of cupping—Local metabolism and pain thresholds in neck pain patients and healthy subjects (2014, sciencedirect.com)
- The medical perspective of cupping therapy: Effects and mechanisms of action (2019, sciencedirect.com)
- The Role of Cupping Therapy in Pain Management: A Literature Review (2020, intechopen.com)