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What Is Cupping?

A professional uses cupping on a patient.

Ever wonder what the circular bruise marks are on the backside of athletes and other wellness enthusiasts? Cupping is a trending practice for not only athletes but casual gym goers and everyone in between. But what is it?

Lifesavvy spoke with Hezekiah Lasater, Massage Therapist at Lasater Massage Therapy to uncover the latest information on cupping, the benefits, and who should try it.

What Is Cupping?

Cupping is a massage therapy technique designed to increase blood flow to a specific area while reducing muscle tension and promoting relaxation.

Lasater shared that these techniques originated from fire cupping, where the oxygen in the cup is consumed by fire, creating suction against the skin. Nowadays, rubber and plastic cups are used in a similar manner. When the suction is applied to the body, the skin, muscles, and connective tissue (fascia) beneath the cup are lifted, generating upward pressure that can range from gentle to intense, depending on the technique and massage objective.

“Generally speaking, when lighter suction is used, the cups are dragged along the skin as to pull fluid within the muscles and to desired locations,” said Lasater, “…conversely, if heavier suction is used the cups are left in place and the effects are focused on releasing tight muscles in that particular location.”

What Are the Benefits of Cupping?

The advantages of cupping primarily revolve around facilitating the movement of fluid within the body’s surface to different areas. This technique, referred to as lymphatic massage, utilizes cups to mobilize lymph fluid, thereby reducing edema or swelling.

By promoting fluid movement, cupping also facilitates the circulation of blood within targeted muscles, which aids in the healing process. This is particularly significant since many tense muscles experience reduced blood flow, a condition known as ischemia.

Additionally, employing greater pressure during cupping can effectively release tight muscles by exerting a similar effect to that of a deep tissue massage, but in an upward direction rather than towards the body.

Lasater noted that it is normal to see a circular “bruise” where the cups have been sitting during the session. He explained that this is simply “fluid that has been left near the skin in the interstitial spaces between cells.”

Who Should Try Cupping?

A person undergoes cupping therapy and has bruises along their back.

Cupping is highly beneficial for individuals who are dealing with muscle tightness or experiencing swelling and inflammation in proximity to muscle tissue.

It is common for athletes who put regular stress on their bodies to book cupping sessions routinely. It is also commonly used for those who experience regular migraines, or headaches, and hold chronic tension around their head, neck, upper back and shoulders.

Lasater explained that individuals who have extreme edema (swelling) caused by disease or who have heart conditions may not be suited for these techniques. If you have any concerns regarding contraindications for cupping techniques, it is advisable to consult with your massage therapist or physician.

How to Book a Cupping Session

Massage therapists and spas often promote cupping as an available option alongside their regular services. Typically, these techniques are offered as add-ons, requiring you to book a standard massage with the inclusion of cupping. However, certain independent massage therapists integrate cupping as a regular technique in their practice.

For the best first time experience, it is advisable to seek the services of an independent massage therapist or one operating within a chiropractor’s or physical therapy office, as they tend to possess greater overall expertise.

Cupping is a helpful, and affordable technique to help release muscle tension. Anyone with ordinary aches and pain in common areas can benefit from booking a cupping session with a local massage therapist.

Jenn Vigh Jenn Vigh
Jenn is a pilates and yoga instructor, an aerialist, and a travel blogger with 5 years of experience in nonprofit communications, and over 10 years of experience writing, teaching, training, performing and collaborating with creatives across the globe. For the last 6 years, her American home-base has been Austin, TX, where she’s worked with the aerial dance company, Blue Lapis Light, and enjoyed the sunshine with her world-traveling yorkipoo, Sheila. Read Full Bio »
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