Traditional massage techniques employ the use of the massage therapist’s hands to compress tissue and push out blood and lymph from an area, allowing the body’s natural ability to pull fresh blood into the space. By contrast, cupping methods create a negative pressure, or suction, on the skin that pulls up tissue and actively draws blood and other fluids close to the surface. This pulling action on the body engages the parasympathetic nervous system and induces a deep relaxation. Cupping can be an effective complementary technique when used in conjunction with massage therapy.
Cupping is a process in which suction is used to relieve local congestion. The suction is created by using mechanical means to create a partial vacuum, which draws blood and other fluids closer to the surface of the skin allowing the body to rid itself of toxins more easily.
The suction can be light, medium or strong depending on whom it is used and which tools are utilized. For example, light cupping or suction is appropriate for children and the elderly, while strong cupping is contraindicated for them. There is also massage cupping, sometimes referred to as moving cupping, which uses a weak suction with the cups sliding across an oiled body surface, such as the back.
Cupping can be used for many pathologies, most of which are considered to be caused by stagnation or congestion of energy, blood or mucus as categorized by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). These include, among others:
- Back pain
- Musculoskeletal pain
- Respiratory disorders, such as colds, flu and asthma
- Constipation and diarrhea
- Arthritic conditions
The cups with vacuum pumps are placed over the afflicted areas of the body or over related acupressure points. They are left in position for five to 15 minutes, depending on the strength of the suction. Bruising and occasionally blistering, following the shape and size of the cup will generally occur where the worst of the congestion has been negatively affecting the body.