Cupping is all the buzz because of the Olympics. Red and purple spots speckling the shoulders and backs of the athletes are making everyone wonder what they are doing, and why?
To anyone familiar with acupuncture and Chinese medicine, however, cupping is old news. Ancient, in fact.
It's a massage technique that uses suction to achieve a much deeper release of the tissue. I use cupping in conjunction with acupuncture to release muscle tension, draw out toxins, and speed up recovery time. It works immediately to start improving pain and range of motion.
Suction is usually created inside of a glass cup with a small flame, which burns off oxygen (about 20% of the air) before it is placed on the skin. Plastic cups with a hand pump are also widely used, but the former is more traditional and my personal preference.
While the flame makes this process look a bit scary, it's important to remember the flame is only used to create suction, it never touches the skin and only comes in contact with the cup for a moment, not long enough to heat it up. Cupping done properly should never cause a burn.
Even though the suction can break small capillaries on the surface of the skin, leaving a red or even dark purple marks, cupping isn't inherently painful. It can feel intense, depending on how strong the suction is, and some people don't enjoy the sensation, just as some people don't enjoy massage or acupuncture. Many people, however, find it extremely relaxing and releasing, especially those with chronic or severe pain.
If you'd like to try out cupping, go for it! I recommend finding a licensed acupuncturist in your area, make sure to ask about cupping when booking your appointment.