How to Know if Cupping is Right For You By Julie McCoy-Cox

 In Acupuncture, Holistic, Massage

Cupping is a very beneficial technique done in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is a simple and direct way to pull stagnated qi, blood or fluid out of an injured area. Cupping is also an effective way to massage and lengthen muscle tissue and offer myofascial decompression. Let’s explore the basics and how to know if cupping is right for you.

How does it work?

Cupping draws stagnation from deep within the tissue of an injured or tight area of the body and brings that stagnation up to the surface where it can be brought back into the circulatory system and get addressed by the body. Cupping draws skin and muscle tissue up into the cup offering a manual stretch to the area with the vacuum that is created.

When we talk about stagnation what is stuck?

When an area of the body gets injured, this can be a micro-injury like soreness after a workout or injury from overuse as well as more severe sprains and strains, there can be ruptures of small blood vessels causing blood to accumulate in the surrounding tissue. This blood congeals, disturbing the cupping-cupsnormal circulation of blood, qi and fluids. This accumulation can prevent the normal, freedom of movement in the tissue and interfere with normal circulation, so that the muscles are not properly nourished. Without the proper circulation and the smooth movement of the muscles and surrounding tissues the area is not as strong and healthy as it should be, leaving the area susceptible to cold or damp (swelling). Both cold and dampness further contribute to constriction and tightness in the area. This becomes a vicious cycle. Even if you do not have an injury, stress, muscle tightness and poor posture can also lead to restriction in an area, lack of blood flow, accumulation of qi, blood or fluids and again this lack leads to malnourishment in the area, leaving it more susceptible to injury, tightness, sprains and strains.

Let’s Get Started

Cupping can be one of the ways that circulation is restored by both removing stagnation and reducing tightness in the area. This leads to restored circulation in the area which allows it to be fully nourished with blood, oxygen, qi and healthy blood flow. This is why cupping is so effective; it addresses the main issue that occurs with an injury, overuse and stress causing muscle tightness.

One thing to remember about cupping is you want a trained professional, find an acupuncturist or trained massage therapist to work with. Like any technique, you want to be thoughtful in how and when you apply cupping. Too much of a good thing is not always good, more is not always better. You want to have the appropriate amount of cupping for the injury and for your current state of health. Too much many cups or cups that stay on for too long can be draining and create fatigue and stress on the body. Finding a trained professional to work with is important.

What’s with the Purple Spots?

Before addressing the basics of cupping, let’s talk about the big purple spots. If you have ever seen anyone who has received cupping you have probably noticed the suction cup marks, it looks like they got kissed by an octopus. The important thing to know is this is not a bruise. A bruise is from an injury, it is usually painful. The marks left by cupping are from drawing that stagnated blood, to the surface. Remember this stagnated blood was from the ruptured vessels caused by an initial injury or by the chronically tight muscles that keep blood trapped in the area. It is not an injury caused by the cupping, rather a cleaning up of an injury that was already there but hidden under the surface. The three different types of cupping are fire cups (glass cups), plastic cups (pump cups), and glass cups (bulb pump cups).

4 Things to Know Before You Try Cupping:
  • Cupping is usually done between 5-10 minutes, however sometimes the cup is left on 1-2 minutes and sometimes 15 minutes.
  • If after 5 minutes there is no redness showing, cupping is not the technique needed.
  • Another round of cupping should not be done until the marks from any previous cupping are no longer visible.
  • Cupping should not be painful, if the cups are too tight and you experience pain they should be loosened. There may be a strong sensation, stay with it, but if it feels overwhelming it may be too strong. I like to say if you can’t continue to breathe a full, deep breath the cup should be loosened.
9 Contraindications for Cupping:
  • Over superficial veins or varicose veins
  • Thin skin of the face – unless using facial cups
  • Over eyes, ears, nose or mouth
  • Internal organs – such as liver, stomach or intestines
  • Over broken skin, open sores or lesions
  • Back or abdomen when pregnant
  • Caution where skin has less sensation or areas of neuropathy
  • With elderly or people experiencing extreme fatigue the time and intensity of the cups should be less
  • Avoid boney prominence

Click here to schedule acupuncture with Julie now!

Julie practices here at Natural Body Works Massage and Wellness Center in beautiful Downtown Vancouver, WA. She specializes in acupuncture, Chinese Medicine, and a variety of bodywork modalities including the increasingly popular cupping technique. You can schedule online through the link above or give us a call at 360-694-9726.



Bisio, Tom. A Tooth from the Tiger’s Mouth: How to Treat Your Injuries with Powerful Healing Secrets of the Great Chinese Warriors. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.


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