I Tried It…Chinese Cupping Therapy

If you’re unfamiliar with the term cupping therapy, take a quick trip over to Google and search for “celebrity cupping”. You’ll see tons of stars with what looks like circular hickeys on their back.

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If you’ve heard about this ancient therapy before but not quiiiite sure what da heck it is, then I’m here to share my experience with you. Cupping therapy is an Eastern practice that is usually performed to improve circulation of stagnant blood that may be hanging around old injuries and such.

I know the google images look scary as sh*t, but I’m here to say that it’s not that scary. I actually tried it for myself and I’m alive and well to tell the story, so here goes:

My Experience With Cupping Therapy

I was connected with a Chicago massage center (Millenium Park Massage) therapist, Beth Wade, who specializes in cupping therapy and other holistic modalities like reflexology and massage. When she reached out to collaborate I knew that I had to try this ancient treatment so that I could report back to my tribe.

Beth started the session with a massage which was seriously magnificent and then lead up to the cupping. She showed me the “cups” which look like light bulbs and demonstrated how they are applied to our skin. Oh and don’t worry I didn’t try the fire cupping (don’t google that), I started with the good ol’ traditional method.

What Does Cupping Therapy Feel Like?

When she applied the cups to my back I immediately felt, well, suction. It didn’t hurt but it definitely did not resemble a massage. It feels almost as if you’re getting hickeys all over your back – I mean the last time I received a hickey was in middle school so I’m just pulling from deep deep memories here – but this is the closest feeling I can compare it to. But let me just tell ya that cupping is like a guy who is absolutely determined to give you the most epic hickey of your life. So imagine that feeling all over your back.

With that said, as Beth left me in the room to soak in the experience, I did after a few minutes feel deeply relaxed. The suction feeling starts to put you in a trance like state. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m experiencing a new sensation or what, but it was certainly not unpleasant.

Beth left the cups on for about 15 minutes since I am a cupping newbie and then applied a white flower oil on my back afterwards. There definitely were purple circles on my back and interestingly enough the marks were more prominent on the side of my back that has more aches and pain than the other. My marks remained for about 6 days but a lot of times they fade in just 2-3 days.

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The End Result?

After the session my back did feel more loosey-goosey and I did have more mobility during my workouts. Beth was also right that none of the marks would be tender afterwards, which they weren’t. It did however scare the heck out of The Greek (my boyfriend), who thought I got into a fight with someone carrying an octopus. I assured him though that I was just testing out a holistic treatment that celebrities swear by.

Since Beth said multiple sessions are needed (obviously) to really experience shifts in chronic pain and such, I can’t give you a full answer as to whether  it treated my lower back pain because I’ve only experienced one session. I will however say that despite the photos that pop up when you research cupping therapy online, it is definitely not as scary as it looks.  So if this helps you make up your mind, then keep reading! I was able to pick Beth’s brain even more about this ancient technique so that you can learn more about it.

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A Chat With Beth About Cupping Therapy

BB: What is cupping therapy and how does it work?

Cupping is part of the larger system of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and has been in practice for thousands of years. Cupping works by creating a vacuum using specialized tools. From a more TCM explanation this will draw the Sha (stagnant Qi, or energy) up to the surface so that it may be disbursed. From a more Western explanation this will bring metabolic debris up to the surface so that the body circulatory system can remove it from the body.


BB: What are the potential benefits?

Relief from chronic pain and stiffness as well as the release of emotional baggage! It’s also great for post-injury (once cleared by a treating MD) to help speed up the healing process and reduce fluid retention around an injury site. Cupping may also help release old emotional injuries as well, the body holds on to so much and sometimes old traumas get “stuck” and cause physical pain. Cupping can help get that baggage out and on its way. (Hasn’t your ex-boyfriend taken up enough space in your life? See ya!)


BB: Are there any side effects of cupping therapy?

Sometimes, if there is a lot of stagnation there may be cupping marks following a treatment. These marks are NOT bruises and will fade a few days. The marks are caused by the vacuum that’s created pulling old metabolic debris (or Sha in TCM) up towards the skin’s surface.


BB: What do the marks that are left over from the therapy imply?

If there’s a lot of stagnation the marks will generally be a deep purple color, an excess may show up as a red color and a deficiency may show up as pale bluish-purple.


BB: Who might want to experience cupping therapy?

Anyone seeking relief from chronically tight or sore muscles as well as people that are in the post-acute or chronic stage of injury recovery. I’ve had great success with office workers who have chronically tight shoulders and burning upper back back caused hunching over a computer all day. Additionally, I’ve gotten amazing results with clients that have had a broken bone. When casts are removed often times there’s a lot of interstitial fluid built up around the injury site. Gentle post cast removal cupping can do wonders to speed up the recover process.


BB: Are there different forms of cupping? If so, what are they and how do they differ?

There’s fire cupping, which is generally performed by Licensed Acupuncturists and is done with actual fire and glass cups. This is the traditional way of doing cupping, however my insurance won’t cover things that are on fire so I do pneumatic cupping, which uses a hand help pump.

Additionally I do cosmetic cupping (facial rejuvenation) which uses soft silicon cups on the face and is a safe and natural alternative to injections and fillers. Because of the technique used in cosmetic cupping there are no marks left after the treatment and clients generally see an immediate improvement in facial puffiness. With continued, regular treatments clients can expect to see an improvement in elasticity, a reduction in fine line and spider veins, as well as a brighter complexion.


BB: I’ve heard that celebrities and athletes are turning to cupping? Why is it so popular among athletes?

Cupping is great for creating microscopic space in the soft tissue being treated allowing for faster recovery from physical exertion and well as injury recovery and to help increase circulation to an area that may be in high demand. Plus it feels great and helps tight, over worked muscle to RELAX.


BB: Are there any other type of treatments that compliment cupping?

Massage is a great compliment to cupping and can be done in the same session for the ultimate relief.


BB: How should you care for yourself before/after this treatment?

After care for cupping is pretty straight forward, keep the area treated warm, out of direct sunlight and water for the first 24 hours.


BB: What are some additional holistic treatments that you love and recommend?

Reflexology was my gateway modality. It was the first bodywork I was trained in and received my certification in 2011 and I’m still crazy about it. Reflexology is a fantastic way for those that may not want a full-body treatment to benefit from bodywork. I also enjoy performing Reiki sessions as well as teaching classes and offering Reiki attunements.


BB: What type of herbs, essential oils, or other foods do you take regularly to enhance mind body wellness in between cupping sessions?

Herbs and dietary recommendations are beyond my scope of practice, so I really can’t comment. However, EO (essential oils) are in my scope – I love Fighting Five (formally Four Thieves). It’s my favorite all around EO. It smells great and is anti-microbial. I diffuse it at my office, and at home I make an all natural multi-use cleaner with it.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary cupping demo to write about and review for you, my dear reader. All opinions, writings, and thoughts on this subject are solely my own.

2 Comments on I Tried It…Chinese Cupping Therapy

  1. I’m so interested in cupping, and suffer from chronic back pain, too. Interesting to read this.

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