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What is cupping and how does it work?

As Michael Phelps competed at the 2016 Summer Olympics with round bruises covering his back, cupping became part of the mainstream conversation. But did you know that the origins of cupping come from ancient Chinese and Egyptian medicine, which have been around for thousands of years. One of the world's oldest medical textbooks, Ebers Papyrus, written in 1550 BC, mentions cupping.

How does it work?

An initial suction is created either by heating the cup with fire or by pumping it manually. After the cups are applied to your skin, they are left on for a few minutes. As a result of cupping, muscles and connective tissues are decompressed by pulling an area of skin into a suction. Almost like a backward deep tissue massage, this increase blood flow to the compromised area, enhances circulation, and helps the body to heal itself.

Stationary and sliding cupping are the two types most commonly utilised

Stationary cupping

Stationary cupping uses suction to hold the cups in place for a set amount of time, usually 5 to 10 minutes.

Sliding cupping or Myofascial Cupping

This is more like a deep tissue massage where the cups are moved over the area of pain or injury. This can also help to stretch the muscles and fascia.

Functional Cupping

Functional cupping involves placing the cups onto a muscle in a shortened position and then getting the client to move and stretch the body part. This can help to increase range of motion and soft tissue restrictions.

Benefits of Cupping Therapy

- Reducing painful trigger points in the body.

- Improve the circulation of blood and lymph in the body.

- pain relief

- Increase the range of motion and mobility of the joints, as many types of arthritis disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis, affect the joints.

- alleviates pain in the back, neck, knees, shoulders, breathing problems such as asthma, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches and migraines.

- beneficial for fascia conditions such as ITB frictions syndrome and Plants fasciitis.

Effects on the nervous system

Cupping therapy stimulates the skin's sensory nerves. According to a clinical experiment conducted at Kobe University, inhibitory effects on hypersensitive pain extend beyond the direct treatment area to areas controlled by related nerves. In treating the back, the main focus is on the spinal nerves (spinal nerves and parasympathetic nerves) and the sympathetic nerves beside them. These stimulations have a positive effect on both the automatic nervous system and various organs under its control.

All the following conditions contraindicate cupping therapy: open wounds, inflamed tissue, bleeding injuries (external and internal), fractures, as well as complete tendon ruptures.

Would you like to know why it's a good idea to try cupping?

Does it hurt?

Generally cupping is one of the lease painful techniques that we do. The friction, especially for the sliding cupping can be a little unusual and uncomfortable. But once the sliding ends you generally won't feel that much. And the relief you feel once the cups come off make it all worth while. You will usually feel much looser and like you've been released from a straight jacket, in a good way.

How long do the marks last?

This is one of the main questions people ask us and is different for every situation. It can depend on how much pressure is in the cup, how long the cups are left on and also how susceptible to bruising you are. People with very fair skin tend to bruise more easily. The marks can last anything from a few days to a week or two. You generally won't even notice you have the marks unless someone sees you with your shirt off.

When not to cup?

In some conditions and situations, cupping may not be appropriate. In the case of high blood thinner dosages, thin or frail people, or those with fragile skin, cupping is not advised. It is also recommended that you stay away from it if you have active cancer, skin trauma, or a blood disorder. Regardless, you should always share your medication list and health history with your practitioner.

Also if you don't want big cupping marks left on you you should consider whether you should have cupping as the marks can last over a week. If you have a weeding on and are wearing a backless dress then you may want to rethink cupping and try it at a later date.

All practitioners at Muscle Therapy Australia provide cupping. So if you haven't tried it before then now is the time.

If you have any questions about Cupping Therapy and Myofascial Cupping then please don't hesitate to get in touch.

This article was written by Fabiola Parra Morales with some extra content and videos by Garry Luke


- Traditional Chinese Medicine Cupping Therapy (Third Edition), 2014 Journal.


Ilkay Zihni Chirali MBAcC RCHM, in Traditional Chinese Medicine Cupping Therapy (Third Edition), 2014


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