Cupping massage is an alternative to deep tissue massage that uses deep pressure to reach the deeper layers of muscles. The purpose of deep massage is to help break up and get rid of scar tissue from previous injuries and adhesion (stuck together tissue) from the stresses of daily living. Instead of deep pressure, cupping uses suction and negative pressure to affect the deeper muscles.
How Cupping Works
Modern massage using cupping grew out of the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practice of cupping therapy. According to TCM, energy (qi) flows through the body on pathways called meridians. When energy (qi) flow stagnates, it causes sub-optimal health and eventually illness if the stagnation isn't cleared. Cupping in TCM is a way to stimulate (qi) flow and draw out stagnant toxins and energy.
In traditional cupping therapy, the TCM practitioner places a flame inside a glass, pottery, or bamboo cup. The flame draws the oxygen out of the cup, creating a vacuum, and the practitioner quickly places the open end of the cup on your body.
The vacuum in the cup creates a seal on your skin that has suction and negative pressure, which lifts your skin and underlying tissue. This stimulation causes blood to rush to the area and improves qi flow. Typically, TCM practitioners leave the cups in one place (stationary cupping) for about ten minutes, according to the Institute for Traditional Medicine in Portland, Oregon, although practitioners do sometimes move the cups (running cupping) in a massage fashion.
Modern Cupping Massage
A main difference between traditional cupping and massage cupping is that a massage practitioner uses the cups to perform massage strokes. Some massage practitioners use the technique just described (called fire cupping). Another, newer, type of cupping uses a manual vacuum set. The practitioner places a cup on your body and uses an attached pump to remove the air from the cup.
Before placing cups, the massage practitioner applies oil to your skin to make moving the cups easier and smoother. The practitioner moves the cups using massage techniques, such as scooping the edge of a cup over a muscle, making vigorous circles, or performing long strokes along the muscles.
The practitioner may also leave a cup in one location for a short time over knots or inflamed joints or tissue. Some practitioners may use liniments or essential oils immediately after cupping, because your skin more easily absorbs them at that time.
The intensity of cupping varies, depending on how fast the practitioner places the cup on the skin after removing the flame, how hot the flame was, and the size of the cup.
Benefits of Deep Tissue Massage Cupping
In Eastern terms, the suction and negative pressure of deep tissue cupping massage breaks up local qi stagnation. In Western terms, you can think of life force energy (qi) stagnation as poor blood circulation or poor movement of lymphatic fluid. The potential benefits of cupping massage include:
Deep Tissue Massage Cupping Considerations
Cupping works best on fleshy parts of the body, such as the back, and the cupping movements should avoid going over bony places, such as the spine.
Cupping causes the skin to become red, which indicates that blood is coming to the surface. The suction of cupping draws the skin up into the cup, causing the surface blood vessels to expand. This suction can cause discoloration called cupping marks, because a small amount of blood may leak from peripheral capillaries. The discoloration usually fades within a few days.
As with all types of massage, it is not for everyone, so make sure your massage practitioner is aware of all your medical conditions. Conditions for which massage cupping is inappropriate include inflamed skin, high fever, convulsions or cramping, and easy bleeding. Also, cupping is contraindicated on the abdominal area or lower back of pregnant women.