• Ana Toriello, D.O.M., L.Ac.

Cupping: How Sucking It Up Can Relieve Your Aches and Pains


Cupping has gotten a lot of attention in the news lately because of top athletes like Michael Phelps having large, bruise-like circles on their bodies. But cupping has been around for thousands of years and is a common practice around the world, it is just one modality that is not very common for Americans.

What is it?

Cupping uses various mechanisms (whether plastic cups with pumps or glass cups that are heated) to pull skin and tissue up into the cup. These cups are either left in place or moved around tight, painful areas, which is usually the back but can be placed anywhere in the body. This causes negative space within the tissue allowing for greater blood and in turn increasing oxygen and nutrients to the area.

When the tissue is pulled into the cup, it helps stretch tight, knotted muscles. The suction also helps pull dead cellular debris from deep in the muscle to an area with greater blood flow where the body can more easily remove it. Now that the area is free of the garbage the body has produced, there is more room for nutrients and oxygen which allow the tissue to heal itself. Removing blood and energy blocks from an area helps heal sore muscles much more easily.

During a recent conversation with another acupuncture colleague, he mentioned his conversation with an MD about cupping. This doctor felt that cupping would definitely be beneficial because when muscles are tight, there is less blood flow to that area causing it to break down and leave large amounts of metabolic waste to build up. This metabolic waste is usually minerals that are inside our cells, which can interfere with calcium ion channels (what allows our cells use to properly convey messages between one another). This doctor felt that cupping would help move out this buildup and allow for proper nerve firing, reducing spasms and improper contractions.

So What Causes Those Marks?

It is a misconception that the marks left behind are bruises. The marks are non-painful and usually go away from 2 days to a week. When injury occurs to a muscle, deep bruises can be left behind which causes pain and tightness. Cupping pulls up non-circulating, dead blood cells and sticky fluids left behind from injuries to the surface where the body can move it out. For more info, visit the International Cupping Therapy Association here.

Does it Hurt?

When done by a trained professional, such as an acupuncturist, it should not hurt and should actually feel relaxing. After treatment, the area should feel more fluid with a reduction in pain. The discolored areas should not hurt after treatment and will go away in 2 days to a week, depending on how well your lymphatic system is draining or how much debris needed to be moved out.

What is a Treatment Like?

In my office, I only use mechanical silicon or plastic cups and not the glass and fire cups. I place coconut oil plus some essential oils on the area to be worked on so the cups can easily move around. Silicon cups also allow for me to be able to move them around joints and bony areas. Cupping can be thought of as a "reverse massage", which 5 minutes of cupping is the equivalent to 30 minutes deep tissue without the discomfort. Treatments last between 20 to 45 minutes, shorter treatments are used at the beginning in order for the body to get used to the treatments.

It is hard to find good studies on the benefits of cupping because not much money is put into alternative medicine research in comparison to pharmaceutical and other Western medical methods. Many people who have tried it will tell you they do have a great reduction in aches and pains after a treatment. Plus, Olympic athletes swear by it and how it helps them recover from long days of training.

Curious to try it out yourself? Come in during the Olympic games (between August 3rd, 2016 and August 21st, 2016) and receive a cupping treatment for only $50 (usually $65). You can book your appointment online or buy up to 3 treatments on my online store, which you can use up to 4 months after purchase. Make sure to pick "Olympic Cupping Offer".

Visit my informational page on cupping as well!

Ana Toriello, D.O.M., is a National Board certified Diplomate of Oriental Medicine operating a private practice in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which includes an herbal pharmacy. She specializes in women's health, dermatology and cosmetic acupuncture. Please visit www.fortlauderdale-acupuncture.com for more information.


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