Home LIFESTYLE Cupping demystified: Everything you need to know about the ancient practice

Cupping demystified: Everything you need to know about the ancient practice

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Blake Leeper has cupping therapy done by chiropractor Dr. Charley Fisher on May 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. Leeper is an eight-time Paralympic Track and Field international medalist, world record holder and three-time American record holder. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images/TNS)

Emma Stein
Detroit Free Press

Although it’s a divisive massage treatment with some professing their love and others vowing to never get it again, cupping has gained popularity in recent years.

The ancient massage treatment is known for leaving circular marks on the skin, but much of the actual practice remains a mystery to most.

The treatment broke into the limelight and garnered national attention in 2016 after Michael Phelps was spotted with the signature marks at the Rio Olympics. Other celebrities, including Gwyneth Paltrow, have been doing it for years.

“Some people have incredibly strong feelings about it,” said Jenaveve Biernat, owner and lead massage therapist at Meta Physica Wellness Center in Detroit. “And it’s not a esoteric, up for debate, fake thing. I’m not going to tell you it’s going to remove toxins from your body…we’re dealing with things that can be proven.”

Here are answers to all your cupping questions:

Origins

Cupping has been traced to medicinal practices in several parts of the world, including China and the Middle East, dating all the way back to 1550 B.C, according to the National Institutes of Health.

After more frequent athlete and celebrity sightings with the cupping marks, the practice grew in popularity and became a more common massage treatment.

Still, the NIH says there has been very little research on cupping, and that evidence for it as a pain reliever isn’t very strong.

“There’s not enough high-quality research to allow conclusions to be reached about whether cupping is helpful for other conditions,” the NIH website reads.

How it works

Cupping works by creating suction on the skin. It’s essentially the reverse of a more typical massage, Biernat said.

“If you think about a massage, a massage applies pressure to the muscle, the fascia, and the tendons, right, we’re putting our body weight into you,” she said. “The cupping creates negative pressure, so instead of pushing down, we’re pulling out, we’re pulling up the muscle and the fascia and allowing space for blood to flow, for oxygen to increase.”

According to the NIH, there are two types of cupping, wet and dry. Wet cupping pierces the skin and blood flows into the cup, but dry cupping doesn’t involve piercing the skin.

The signature mark can last from hours to weeks, depending on an individual’s skin sensitivity and the intensity of the cupping itself.

Biernat said that, despite the marks it leaves, cupping doesn’t actually hurt.

“It should not hurt, but like a deep Issue massage, it’ll be intense,” she said. “But that all depends on how deeply your practitioner is cupping you.”

Benefits

Potential benefits of cupping range from relaxation to easing pain and tension.

That said, Biernat noted that the benefits and enjoyment of the practice vary from person to person based on personal preferences.

She said a lot of her frequent customers are athletes and people who exercise frequently, as well as people who are always sitting down for their desk jobs.

“I find that most clients benefit from cupping who are very tight and have very tight fascia,” she said. “So we have tight muscles and we have tight fascia. And this can be from working out excessively, it can be from 40-plus hours a week on a computer, it can just be like overall stiffness from you know, whatever you got you have going on with your body.”

Should I get a cupping treatment?

Some scientists doubt the effectiveness of cupping, but Biernat said it all comes down to personal preference and there isn’t any harm in trying it out.

Everyone has a different tolerance when it comes to massage and body work, she said.

Biernat said anyone except those who are pregnant or who have broken skin can be cupped. However, she wouldn’t advise people to get cupped the first time they ever get a professional massage.

“You’ve got to get comfortable with your body and therapeutic touch, first,” she said.

If you do decide to get cupped, she said it’s important to communicate with your practitioner what you want and what you’re looking for.

“I know it can be intimidating to be in a room with a stranger, usually a darkened room, then lay down on a table and take most of your clothes off, a lot of people don’t feel empowered to say anything about what they want,” Biernat said.

If they don’t communicate, she said, they’re much more likely to have a negative experience. Even with a good practitioner and communication, she said the treatment isn’t for everyone, but there’s no harm in giving it a shot.

“Some people are runners and they want their IT bands cupped from their knee to their hip,” she said. “Other people, if you do that, they will jump off the table. It’s total preference.”

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