Cupping: A Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

CAM is a popular term for health and wellness therapies that are not a part of conventional medicine (conventional typically meaning going to the medical doctor to be prescribed medication for various ailments and/or having surgery.) Complementary means treatment is used along with conventional medicine, and alternative means treatment is used instead of conventional medicine.

Cupping is a type of CAM that we’ve recently added to our list of services thanks to Lindsey, our newly certified ACE Massage Cupping practitioner. A small amount of cupping creates a lot of change in the tissues, therefore, this is being offered as an add-on service in which it will be incorporated into 10-20 minutes of your massage session should you choose to add it. Cupping therapy achieves powerful results in pain reduction, scar reduction, joint mobilization, releasing tight, contracted muscle tissue, pre- and post- operative therapy, lymph drainage, detoxification, and athletic performance enhancement.

Cupping is a skin-surface treatment that has been used for many centuries in Asia and Europe. The goal is to move stagnant fluids in the body. Each treatment involves placing several cups on the patient’s skin and creating a vacuum or suction. According to Young Ki Park, DO “This vacuum causes the skin under the cups to rise, which causes skin pores to expand and discharge accumulated toxins and waste products from under the skin” (Braun and Simonson, p.505), thus moving blood and lymph fluid. Dr. Park also states that, “The healing principle of cupping is the cleansing of the blood” (Braun and Simonson, p.505), which improves circulation and assists the body in healing. Another benefit to this process is that after a cupping treatment, aromatherapy (another CAM) can be much more effective when applied to the skin, as the oils are more easily absorbed by the expanded pores and dispersed quickly throughout the body because of the increase in circulation.

The types of cups that can be used for this therapy are glass, bamboo, earthenware, and silicone. Silicone cups are what you will be treated with at our facility. Silicone cups are pliable, creating their own suction and easily moving over the body. Their transparency also allows the therapist to monitor the condition of the skin. The skin color is a good indicator of the effectiveness of the treatment so the therapist can make adjustments accordingly.

The uniqueness of this modality lies in the fact that instead of exerting pressure on the different points of the body for healing, suction is used to tug the skin, tissues, and muscles upwards. The cups are used in a variety of strokes and stationary positions to loosen tissue, remove adhesions, relieve inflammation, and detoxify and tone the body. This can help accelerate change in your body if you have scar tissue, restricted range of motion, acute or chronic pain from inflammation or injury, poor circulation, toxicity build up, cellulite, or general stuck tension.

Cupping is also used in acupuncture as a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) technique, so it is within the scope of practice of acupuncturists as well. The cupping technique applied by massage therapists is more for working with the fascia and does not involve TCM.  Acupuncturists receive more in-depth training in cupping and are able to offer a wider variety of cupping methods than a massage therapist. Acupuncture is another great CAM that can be added to your wellness routine, and it compliments massage nicely.

Massage cupping is the mildest form of cupping but can sometimes leave a mark due to the suction action of the cups on the skin, which is what pulls up stagnant blood, metabolic wastes,  toxins, inflammatory compounds, etc. out of the tissues. This depends on the condition of the person’s tissues being treated, so cupping marks may or may not happen. The compounds released are then reabsorbed from the interstitial fluids and processed out of the body over the next 2-5 days and the marks, if any, disappear.

Whether you are trying it for the first time, getting back into the swing of things, or continuing your healing journey, cupping can be a very effective tool in regaining balance in your body.

Lindsey applies the most mild form of cupping, so it is a great place to start.

May this new year be full of health and vitality for you.

Authors: Rhonda Hancock & Lindsey Foster


Braun, Mary Beth & Simonson, Stephanie (with Park, Young Ki DO) (2008). Introduction to Massage Therapy (2nd ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

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