Megan here. When I first started practicing massage, I didn’t use cupping much at all. It wasn’t until I found myself with a client who had a major injury and started coming to me for help with his shoulder pain that I discovered just how powerful this technique can be. I tried various massage techniques on this client, and, while they certainly did help, they weren’t achieving the breakthrough healing we were after.
I had learned about cupping in massage school, and it really intrigued me. Here was a perfect textbook opportunity to use the technique and see what it could do. And was I ever impressed with the results! He has now regained almost full range of motion back in his shoulder and minimal pain (if any) on a daily basis.
What Cupping Can Help With
Now don’t get me wrong: cupping is not only useful for specific injuries like my first cupping client. It also helps tremendously with all sorts of other conditions, both big and small.
Cupping is great for many things including muscle tension, releasing muscle adhesions and toxins, stimulating blood flow, lymph and energy through the body, and much more. Specifically it may be helpful for people with poor circulation, fibromyalgia, and upper cross syndrome, just to list a few.
Basics of Cupping
So what is cupping? On the surface, it looks like a pretty simple thing. I light cottonballs on fire inside special glass cups and then use that fire to suction the cups to the skin. The cups can feel intense if you’ve never experienced this technique before.
I use cupping to follow meridians (channels that follow areas of the body and contain acupressure points) on the body. There are five meridians on the back, which is the most typical place to use the cups. However, the cups can be used all over the body. By using meridian points, cupping can help align, open, and relax the meridian channels to help the flow of energy, blood and lymph flow in the body. It’s considered to be one of the best deep-tissue therapies available. It can affect tissue up to four inches deep. Toxins can be released and veins and arteries can be flushed within the four inches of affected tissue.
Physiologically, cupping brings your awareness to the area of the body being cupped. It also draws blood to that area, which is needed to help heal muscles and fascia. Cupping can help to break down scar tissue as well.
With all these great benefits, it’s important to be aware up front that cupping can leave you bruised for one to two weeks. However, the bruises are not typically painful. They’re really more of a visual side-effect.
Cupping helps me do things I cannot do with my hands. As a therapist, I usually push down on muscles, whereas the cups pull the fascia (important connective tissue that encases muscles and bones) away from the underlying structures. I can use the cups to move up and down a particular part of the body (referred to as gliding cupping) or I can leave the cups in certain areas that need more attention, allowing me to work in two places at once.
Under the right circumstances, this “two places at once” approach can really allow me to multitask and have an even greater impact on your body. In some ways, it’s almost like having two massage therapists work on you at once!
As is the case with many other massage techniques, with cupping, It’s important to know you may experience something called “retracing”. Retracing is when you go back through past pain when trying a new therapy. For example, let’s say you’ve had shoulder pain for many years and it went away, but then pain in your neck showed up. Sometimes when you receive a new treatment to help the neck pain, the shoulder pain all of a sudden shows up again. It’s not that your shoulder pain was eliminated. It’s just that it manifested to your neck.
This example is very common and I’ve seen it happen quite often. You can go through this at any time, but most often it happens when you’ve experienced severe trauma like car accidents and have ignored the pain for many years.
Retracing can be a very difficult thing to go through. However, it’s a necessary and beneficial part of the healing process. Some clients can become understandably confused and think it’s a bad thing that other pains are showing up. But, in fact, retracing is a very good thing because it means you now have the opportunity to move past this dormant pain.
Asian Medicine Perspective on Cupping
The physiological side of cupping is fairly straightforward, and I find it easy to see why it helps on a physical level. But there is also an energetic side to cupping which is much harder for me to put my finger on. A lot of people want to be able to see or feel change, and may think of energy as something “weird”, or simply as something they don’t understand. I don’t completely understand energy either, and I am in no way an energy worker. But I do feel there is something important going on with energy in a massage, and with cupping in particular.
Because I don’t completely understand what’s going on in the energy realm, I’ve found the Asian Medicine perspective on energy to be quite helpful. The way Asian Medicine looks at it, when the movement of energy in the body is smooth, there is no pain within the body. When the movement of energy within the body is stagnate, there is pain. The main function of Asian Medicine is to balance energy within the body to help eliminate pain. Pain is thought to be an imbalance of energy in the body, and cupping helps to draw unwanted energy out of the body. Maybe this perspective can help explain why I see so many great results with cupping that seem to go beyond just the physical healing.
Since that very first time I used cupping to help my client eliminate his shoulder pain and regain almost full range of motion, I was immediately drawn to how powerful this technique can be. Since then, I’ve been recommending it and using it with clients more and more. I’ve seen it greatly enhance and accelerate healing in countless cases now, and I’m still discovering new ways to use it and help my clients get even more benefit out of their massage sessions.