What is Cupping?

You may have seen people you know post pictures on social media of their circular, purplish marks from their latest cupping session. Or perhaps you remember seeing Michael Phelps’ back during the last summer Olympics looking quite spotted before jumping into the pool. But before you write off cupping as something only for people who are into non-traditional medicine or professional athletes, we want to let you know a little more about it. At Cawley Physical Therapy, all of our therapists are trained and experienced in cupping techniques and it may be just the thing you need to boost your recovery or therapy. But if you are still skeptical, in this post we will talk about what cupping is, its history, how it helps, and who it can help.

What Exactly is Cupping??

Cupping is a form of ancient medicine that involves creating suction with a cup on certain muscle groups. There are a number of ways this can be done. At Cawley PT, a therapist will utilize a specific pumping tool connected to one of the “cups” specific to the area or region of treatment they place the cup on the skin, creating a vacuum. It doesn’t hurt and the suction increases the blood flow to the area. The cup can be made of glass, silicone, earthenware, or bamboo.

The therapist typically leaves the cups on for 3 minutes or sometimes a little longer. Or the cup can be moved around on the surface of the skin instead of sitting in one place. According to WebMD, cupping helps with pain, inflammation, blood flow, recovery, relaxation, and massage. The marks left are not bruises and they fade from the skin within 10 days. The marks are left from the toxins that are brought to the surface through the treatment. The marks remain on the skin from the suction, unlike a bruise which is a result of trauma and broken blood capillaries. Cuppingsource.com explains the darker marks are left in areas where higher levels of toxins are found while areas on bodies with fewer toxins are lighter.


The History of Cupping

Cupping is an ancient form of medicine with its first recorded roots in the western world in Egypt in 1550 B.C. and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for at least three thousand years. Greekmedicine.net talks about how after it was passed on from the Egyptians to the Greeks, major thinkers like Hippocrates and Galen were big advocates of cupping. While some of the methodology behind ancient cupping doesn’t stand for many in the western world, there is still very legitimate physiology behind why cupping works.

How Cupping Helps

A health reporter from the Daily Burn fitness program, Jordan Shakeshaft, talks about her cupping experience in a recent article. The doctor Shakeshaft visited explains,

“‘By manually going in and moving things around, you’re able to push toxins from those cells into the lymphatic system. Your body naturally does that — your lymphatic system is your body’s filter. But this is a catalyst to give that natural detoxification process a boost.”

Aside from the detoxifying nature of the treatment, cupping relaxes muscles similar to a deep tissue massage or acupuncture. Shakeshaft shares from her cupping experience the areas where her cups were focused felt much looser after the treatment while areas that didn’t get the cups still carried a lot of tension.

Can Cupping Help Me?

Cupping is touted by Michael Phelps and many other professional athletes as a key to their success. But you don’t have to be a professional athlete to experience the benefits of cupping. Blue-collar workers, exercise enthusiasts, and those recovering from an injury are all good candidates for cupping. You should, however, let the PTs at Cawley PT know if you have any blood disorders or if you suspect you may have cancer. People with blood disorders or cancer are not good candidates for cupping.


If your interest is piqued, give us a call or shoot us an email at Cawley PT. All of our therapists are experienced with cupping and will be able to let you know if they think cupping could help your condition.  Contact us by email at cawleyptfrank@gmail.com and by phone at (570) 208-2787. Perhaps you will be the next person on your Instagram feed posting a picture of your cupping spots!