Let’s talk cupping – ever heard of it? Even if you think you’re unfamiliar, chances are you’ve seen cup marks on your friends, on fitness pros on Instagram or maybe people at your gym. Cupping made a comeback in 2016 when Michael Phelps showed off his cupping marks at the Olympics. Cup marks look like apple-sized, circular bruises – and they’re usually in a symmetrical pattern across a person’s shoulders or down their back.
Sound familiar now? You may have seen these marks and thought, man that looks painful. But cupping is incredibly restorative without inflicting any pain. And those “bruises” aren’t bruises at all – they’re more like hickies, because they’re the result of suction on the skin.
But where did these marks come from, what are they treating + is it really effective?
In its simplest form, cupping involves a practitioner putting special cups on your skin to create suction. The cups then sit for several minutes. As the cups are working, your skin will rise + redden. Cupping helps with many ailments through this increased blood flow to a painful or inflamed area.
Cupping has taken many forms and treated many ailments for thousands of years. Like acu, cupping originated in China and has been used as a form of physical therapy since as early as 200 CE. Cupping was actually one of the main forms of therapy used to treat tuberculosis outbreaks as early as the 7th century. The first cupping tools were hollowed animal horns, which were used to drain toxins from the body by creating suction on the skin. Over time, horns were replaced with bamboo and finally glass cups.
Today, traditional cupping sometimes takes the form of “fire cupping” – where an acupuncturist soaks a piece of cotton in alcohol, lights the cotton on fire (seriously!) and secures the ignited cotton in a round, hollow glass cup. The cup is then placed on the skin, and as the fire goes out, a vacuum is created, which effectively suctions the sore area.
For those practitioners who prefer to be fire-safe – like we do at WTHN – another way to practice cupping is to use a suction pump attachment on the cups to create a vacuum between the cup and your skin.
Cupping is used to promote relaxation, enhance circulation, relieve pain + extract toxins from the body. It can be used for anyone experiencing acute or chronic pain, muscular tension, headaches, a common cold or even just stress! Cupping is also safe to perform on pregnant women – as long as no cupping is done on their abdomen or lower back.
There are a few best practices for post-cupping care that can enhance the effects of cupping therapy and promote active recovery of your cup marks. It’s best not to shower and keep the cupped area covered + warm for the rest of the night. Hydrate even more than usual to give your lymphatic system the fluids it needs to flush out all the toxins that have been drawn up to the surface. You can also apply arnica cream to the cup marks to help them “heal.” At WTHN, cupping is an excellent add-on to your acu treatment – and is always free for members! If you’re visiting WTHN to treat muscle pain, headaches or stress, consider consulting your healer about whether cupping may have a place in your healing journey here. Then get ready to flaunt those cup marks of your own!