Cupping is an ancient Chinese medical technique that uses small glass, silicon, plastic, or bamboo cups as suction devices that are placed on the skin to release tight muscles and fascia and disperse congested lymphatic fluid and blood stasis. Traditional Chinese medicine theory states that pain and disease is the result of congestion, stagnation, and blockage of qi — the body’s vital energy.

The suction and negative pressure provided by cupping can loosen muscles, encourage blood flow, and release blockages of qi. Practitioners use cupping most often to relieve back and neck pains, stiff muscles, lung congestion, and even cellulite. In fact, cupping is one of the best deep-tissue therapies available, as it can address tissues up to four inches deep from the external skin. Toxins can be released, blockages can be cleared, and more robust health can be restored. 

There are several ways that a practitioner can create the suction in the cups. At Parris Wellness, we use the traditional method — fire cups — where heat creates the negative pressure inside a glass cup that is then applied to the skin. Of course, while brief ignition is required to create this suction, flames are controlled and never used near the skin.

The suction in the cups causes the skin and superficial muscle layer to be lightly drawn into the cup. Cupping is much like the inverse of massage — rather than applying pressure to muscles, it uses gentle pressure to pull them upward. For most of our patients this is a particularly relaxing and relieving sensation. Once suctioned, the cups are generally left in place for about ten minutes while the patient relaxes. Sometimes these cups are also gently moved across the skin. Pain relief massage oils are usually applied to improve movement of the glass cups to glide smoothly along the skin.

The side effects of cupping are fairly mild. Bruising should be expected, but skin should return to looking normal within 3 to 5 days.

Generally, cupping is combined with the acupuncture session, but it can also be used alone. We most often use cupping therapy after acupuncture to enhance the therapy.