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  • Writer's pictureDr. Wilde


Cupping therapy was quickly popularized by media outlets during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, after well-known athletes like Michael Phelps and Alex Naddour appeared with the telltale circular marks.

Cupping uses glass or plastic suction cups to create a negative vacuum pull against skin and fascia. It reduces pain, improves circulation, warms muscles, stimulates lymphatic drainage, unblocks trapped congestion and clears toxins. This traditional Chinese therapy has been used to treat imbalance and illness for over 2,500 years.

There are a variety of traditions and tools in cupping therapy.  Originally, cupping was performed with hollow animal horns, and practitioners forcibly removed air from the horns with their mouths.  As the practice evolved, glass cups (seen above) were manufactured and primarily used with fire cupping or wet cupping traditions.  Fire cupping is a warming technique in which the glass bulb is held over an open flame to remove air and create suction before being placed on the skin.  Massage oil is applied to the skin before the application.  The heated cups can then be manipulated to glide over soft tissue, releasing fascial restriction and muscle tension.  Wet cupping is a specialized form of medicinal bleeding.  After a lancet or scalpel punctures clean skin, glass cups are applied to carefully draw out toxins and stagnant blood.  Both techniques are best performed by a trained and licensed acupuncturist. 

In more recent years, plastic cups have been developed for ease of use.  With some detailed instruction, plastic cupping sets can be self-administered for routine at-home relief.  Traditional cupping can be used to quickly relieve stubborn muscle tension, congested colds, allergies and arthritic conditions.  After experiencing a session or two with your local practitioner, you may wish to administer these treatments at home.  This is especially beneficial for those who are health-conscious or have active lifestyles.  Families can also benefit from cupping, strengthening immunity and educating children on the importance of self-care.


D-I-Y Instructions for Cupping

To begin, find a suitable cupping kit for your needs - there are a few suggestions at the end of this article.  Caution:  DO NOT use cupping therapy in cases of progressive disease including cardiac or renal failure, ascites or cirrhosis, edema, hemorrhagic diseases such as hemophilia or allergic purpura, leukemia, or allergic dermatitis

Target a large muscle body.  You may wish to start with your shoulders, quads, ITB, or calves.  A partner could assist you in treating your back, hips or hamstrings.  Choose an area that is fleshy, with intact skin. Make sure that you are not performing cupping over a venous area, artery or acute swelling or bruising

Cleanse the skin and if you wish to use the cups for massage, apply oil

Apply the cups using gentle suction to raise the skin for 5 to 10 minutes.  It may slowly cause redness, but should not turn violet immediately.  Bruising may occur if the cups are left in place over a longer period of time

To release, place one finger next to the rim of the cup and press down to release suction

Any bruising is a diagnostic tool.  Darker shades of violet indicate areas of blood stagnation and pain.  After the area has healed, it is important to continue treatment in that location

Be sure to wash the cups with disinfecting soap after each use to prevent any shared contaminants

In cases of acute congestion especially from allergies or colds, you may wish to apply cups for a shorter period of time once or twice daily for up to ten days  

For chronic symptoms, start treatment as if it is an acute condition, and continue treatment two to three times weekly, allowing the cups to sit for 10 - 12 minutes 

Suggested Cupping Kits For Beginners

This four silicone cup set is best for beginner use

17 plastic cups and a grip hand-pump for advanced use

Excellent tools for chronic puffy eyes or sinus congestion

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