The truth behind cupping therapy and those big red marks

‘Cupping therapy’ might conjure images of horror-movie style bruises, akin to the welts you’d see on the losing team of a paintball tournament. Thankfully, it’s nowhere near as painful and can actually be low-key enjoyable. Most importantly, it has some really impressive benefits for a whole host of pain and soft-tissue disorders.

The concept of this treatment is thought to date back to 3300 B.C, a subset of Traditional Chinese Medicine; but there is evidence of cupping-style therapies existing in many ancient cultures. There are several different strains of cupping but the one thing that they have in common is that they all involve suction of the fascia – the connective tissue beneath the skin which surrounds every muscle and organ in the body. The kind that we use at Balmain Massage is called ‘moving cupping’ which is probably pretty self-explanatory, but it means that the practitioner uses a single cup and controls the suction by moving it gently through the fascia.

Modern cupping therapy uses either a flexible silicone cup which your therapist will squeeze before applying to your skin to activate suction, or a glass cup used in conjunction with a suction pump to create a negative pressure vacuum. After warming up the area with their hands, the therapist will apply the cup to lightly oiled skin, and slowly slide it over knotted and congested areas.

Cupping therapy works by drawing blood through restricted blood vessels and muscles, regulating vascular flow to promote healing. It’s a brilliant treatment for fatigue, high blood pressure, migraines, chronic pain and cellulite. By separating and stretching restricted soft tissue, fascial adhesions can be reduced which basically means it’s a god-send if you’ve been known to go too hard at the gym. And while, yes, if you’re prone to bruising you may leave with some evidence, moving cupping leaves far less severe marks on the skin than tradition cupping techniques. Ask your therapist for a sample during your next session!

Bentley, B. (2013) ‘Mending the Fascia with Modern Cupping’, The Lantern, Volume X, Issue 3, 4-21
Cao, H, Han, M, Li, X, Dong, S, Shang, Y, Wang, Q, Xu S, Liu J, (2010), ‘Clinical Research Evidence of Cupping Therapy in China: a Systematic Literature Review’, BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine: The official journal of the International Society for Complementary Medicine Research, 10:70
Saha F, J, Schumann S, Cramer H, Hohmann C, Choi K, -E, Rolke R, Langhorst J, Rampp T, Dobos G, Lauche R, ‘The Effects of Cupping Massage in Patients with Chronic Neck Pain – A Randomised Controlled Trial’, Complement Medicine Research, 2017, Volume 24, 26-32
Schleip, R, (2003), ‘Fascial Plasticity – a New Neurobiological Explanation: Part 1, Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, Volume 7, Issue 1, 11-19

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