It is also a modality of deep tissue, myofascial release that I perform as part of my remedial massage treatment. Using suction to create vacuum pressure, cupping is used to soften tight muscles and tone attachments of muscle to bone, loosen adhesions within the muscle and lift connective tissue, bring hydration and blood flow to body tissues, move deep inflammation to the skin surface for release, and drain excess fluids and toxins by opening lymphatic pathways.
It works by suctioning a glass cup to the skin. A vacuum is created when a flame briefly inserted into the cup heating the air, the cup is then placed onto the oiled skin to seal the vacuum. The air in the cup cools and the skin, fascia and muscle tissues underneath, stretch up into the cup.
As a result blood and fluids are drawn out of the muscle beneath and towards the skin. This leaves the appearance of a bruise where the cup was placed.
Typically a bruise is caused by tears to the muscle fibres after an impact to the area. Blood pools and clots in the area to aid healing to the muscle tissues. The cups do not cause tearing, but rather suction and stretching.
Also, a bruise is generally painful to the touch due to inflammation of the injury. A cupping mark is not.
There has been little scientific research into the marks left by cupping but their continued use throughout history indicates a popularity in traditional and alternative medicine practice. The only research known into the marks was performed at the Australian Institute of Sport where cupping tissue samples were observed under microscope. The finding was “old blood”.1
In Chinese medicine the cupping marks are used a diagnostic tool. An indicator to the level of ‘stagnation’ of energy in the area. I would say, in my practice, I have observed that the greater the area of tension is, the deeper the colour of the mark. Some people however, do not mark at all.
Most people are alarmed by the sight of cupping marks, as there is nothing in our frame of reference in modern medicine that indicates a mark as a safe or healthy response to treatment. However, in my experience as both a therapist and an avid receiver of cupping I can comfortably say that the marks are usually forgotten once the muscle tension has been relieved.