Bless Micheal Phelps for "mainstreaming" cupping. However, during the Rio Olympics my Facebook feed has blown up and as articles are getting posted to the internet by the second I'm seeing a lot of misinformation that's disconcerting. Cupping is something I do for patients on a daily basis and can make or break a treatment.
I wanted to offer up a few quick hit truth bombs on the subject.
Cupping is not unique to Chinese Medicine
My little acupuncture heart secretly wishes we had the market cornered on cupping since it's one of my favorite techniques in the Chinese Medicine toolbox. But cupping is found in the Middle East, eastern Europe, Africa, and throughout Asia. The earliest pictorial records date back to the ancient Egyptians around 1500 B.C; translations of hieroglyphics detail the use of cupping for treating fever, pain, vertigo, menstrual imbalances, weakened appetite and helping to accelerate the healing crisis.
Cupping has been studied
Cupping may fall into the category of folk medicine, but that doesn't qualify it as some woo-woo fringe crazy sauce vintage therapy. There are plenty of research studies such as this, this, and this where it has been specifically looked at for pain intervention. Clinical experience technically falls into the category of "Evidence Based Medicine"; and It's my not-so-secret-clinical-experience-weapon for migraines, shoulder pain, neck pain, IT band syndrome, and asthma.
A rose by any other name is still cupping
Because cupping works so well, everyone wants in on the action. You'll sometimes see massage therapists, physical therapists, and chiropractors offer something called "myofascial decompression (MFD)". Let me be clear: it's cupping. There are a million different techniques: fire cupping, water cupping, vacuum cupping, wet cupping, dry cupping, massage cupping, bamboo cupping, horn cupping, and magnetic cupping to name a few. The best types of cups for clinical fire cupping are actually baby food jars; they're the perfect size and shape. Rule of thumb; if you can drink from it, you can use it to cup.
Those aren't bruises you're seeing
Bruising is caused by impact trauma leading to breakage of capillaries and a reactionary rush of fluids to the damaged location from the tissue injury. There is no compression in cup therapy. The marks are the result of having internal unwanted toxins pulled up to the skin which can include such things as lactic acid, lymph fluid, stagnant blood, or medications. When a condition exists within a deeper muscle layer and is dredged up during treatment, discoloration will appear on the skin. If there's no gunk, there are no marks.
Not everyone should get cupped
Truth bomb learned the hard way. There are some schools of thought in Daoist Medicine that actively advise against cupping because it depletes Qi and taxes the body. The skin is your largest organ and contains 20% of your blood volume at any given time. Your body is consistently processing toxins such as heavy metals, viral infections, extra medications, extra booze, and occasionally animal protein you're not metabolizing. It's not that your body doesn't WANT to process that crap, it may be that your body is over taxed and CAN'T process it. So it stores all that garbage away from the organs in a safe place; the muscle layer.
Cupping takes all that garbage and pulls it into the skin layer which forces you to metabolize it - whether your body's ready to or not. You should only be doing this if you're currently eating clean, at a maximum boozing minimally, on few medications, and overall relatively healthy but looking to increase joint movement or alleviate pain. If it's your first time, talk with your practitioner and go light.
Do only a few cups and watch how you react over the next couple of days. If you're not over exhausted or feeling sick, consider it a green light to do more. If you feel like you were run over by a tractor trailer or can't get out of bed, consider doing some sort of detox program before trying again.
Hope that helps and hope to see you soon!
Love and Fire Cup Kisses,
PREPARE TO BE CUPPED
WHY WOULD ANYONE DO THIS?
Cupping is an excellent diagnostic method. We can use cupping to better understand whether the problem is toxin build up, muscle spasm, or something else. A nerve or bone issue will not produce any significant color change.
Cupping demonstrates the exact location of the problem since we usually cup an area larger than the pain center to guarantee everything is covered. The area with the most significant amount of stagnation will have the deepest amount of color. Even the area directly under a single cup will show variation where a small part may color while the rest does not.
Cupping will tell us the severity of the problem. Moderate blockages cause the skin to become pink or red and generally take only take a day or two for the color dissipate. Severe stagnation will produce a deep scarlet, purple, or even black discoloration which may take seven to ten days for the dark color to disperse.
Cupping can be used to help detox. Sometimes symptoms such as fatigue, lethargy, or headaches could be a symptom of toxic overload that your body is trying to manage. If you've been on medications long term, you need to be gentle with cupping because it will reintroduce substances locked in the muscle layer and you want to ensure your liver can properly breakdown anything that comes its way.
HOW LONG WILL THE MARKS LAST?
Hope for an hour but prepare for 3 weeks.
The more severe or chronic an issue, the deeper the color, the longer the marks stay with you. Therefore, I also advise patients to review their social calendar (e.g. any weddings or beach vacations coming up?) before they receive cupping so that we can schedule their session accordingly.
The dramatic marks seen on swimmers in the Olympics, though true athletes and healthy, most likely come from lactic acid build up in addition to the toxins they're exposed to from long hours in chlorinated pools. If they were on a less regimented exercise schedule out of the pool, the cup marks may not have been as entertaining.
DOES CUPPING HURT?
Nope; it's just really weird.
The first few minutes can be rather intense, but most patients enjoy the endorphin rush that comes with cupping. In the method I employ, the cups are left on only long enough to generate color - which means the entire application and removal of the cups generally lasts 15 minutes. Though fire cupping is popular throughout Asia and parts of Western Europe, I prefer to use Korean vacuum pumps for several reasons:
- The risk of burns becomes non-existant
- Consistent suction can be created
- The suction can be controlled by adjusting the pump itself rather than pulling at the skin
PREPARE TO BE CUPPED!
Things to do ahead of time before cupping:
- Eat something prior to your session. Being cupped on an empty stomach may cause dizziness or nausea.
- Know your upcoming social schedule; rethink whether cupping marks showing above a strapless dress line are appropriate or not if you have an upcoming wedding to attend. Discoloration can last anywhere from 1 hour to 3 weeks - it's difficult to predict what will happen, especially if it's your first time.
- Bring clothing that can cover the area where you were cupped. Following the session you will want to ensure exposure is kept to a bare minimum. You should bring a scarf, sweater, hoodie, or jacket as cover-up.
- Give your body a chance to recuperate after the experience. Some patients feel ready to run a marathon while others may experience fatigue, soreness, or even mild headaches.
- Keep the cupped area covered, warm, and free from any drafts following your treatment. Cupping opens the surface of the body, therefore temperature extremes (especially cold or wind) can trigger the muscles to go into spasm or tighten up. You need to be sure to keep the area protected and avoid activities such as hot tubs or cold showers. Warm baths are acceptable if you can avoid leaning back into the tub where the area may be put up against cold ceramic.
- Drink plenty of water! Since toxins have been released back into your system, be sure to drink plenty of fluids to help your body flush them out.
- Over-the-counter pain relief medication such as Tylenol or Advil in small doses are generally acceptable to manage any lasting discomfort.
- Avoid alcohol or other toxic substances for at least 48 hours following the session. Your liver is working hard to process what has been reintroduced into the system; don't make it work any harder than it has to.
- Take it easy! Healing happens in the quiet moments we create; so avoid strenuous activity. Give yourself permission to take down time to recuperate.