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What is Cupping?

Types of cupsCupping is a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) method of stimulating acupuncture points by applying a glass, plastic, or bamboo cup to the skin. The vacuum created when applying a cup (either by momentarily heating the inside or by suction) draws the skin and superficial muscle layer into the cup. This technique stimulates blood flow, relaxes congested muscles, treats general stiffness in the body, and relieves pain (particularly effective for neck/shoulder pain).

Frequently applied either before or following an acupuncture treatment, cupping is used for treatment of sprains, soft tissue injuries, fluid retention in the lungs, bronchitis, congestion, asthma, and chronic cough.  By alleviating swelling and pain, cupping addresses a variety of acute ailments by removing stasis, or energy blockages.

Process of cuppingIncreased blood flow into the cupping area allows the body region to heal more quickly and brings toxins to the surface, which can be released through the pores. By causing tissues to release toxins, cupping clears energy blockages and activates the lymphatic system. Several cups may be placed on the body simultaneously and left in place for up to 15 minutes. In some cases, fixed position cupping is combined with a technique called sliding cupping in which the cups may be moved to other acupuncture point locations along different energy channels or meridians during a treatment session.

We always prepare patients for what to expect after cupping...  especially before formal events and during swimsuit season!  Although cupping is not painful when it is being done, it can feel like an intense tightness within the cupped area (tightness that is relieved when cups are removed).  Also, because of the suction, cupping pulls blood to the surface of the skin and can leave bruises that vary in color from light pink/brown to bright red to dark purple. 

The acupuncturist sees the bruising as a reflection of the degree of stasis, or blockage, that is in a particular area.  For instance, a light pink bruise indicates much less significant blockage versus a dark purple bruise.  In any case, patients are forewarned that this bruising can occur - and can last for up to a week.  
Most patients do not mind the bruising because of the significant relief they feel following the procedure.  Some even like to show off their cupping bruises as acupuncture treatment souvenirs - right Gwyneth?

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