michael phelps cuppingRemember when Gweneth Paltrow showed up at a movie premiere with circular bruise-looking marks on her back?  That was in 2003 I believe.  

In this year’s Olympics (2016), on the athletes:  cupping marks!  When I first saw this, I was like, “oh, cool,” with no idea of the controversy that would follow! 

One MD wrote a scathing review of Michael Phelp’s decision to use cupping in the Atlantic journal.  “Beliefs about how cupping benefits a person are multitudinous, limited only by the imagination.”  

Oh, yes, most Olympic champions are just using “imaginary” ways to heal their bodies, get stronger, and … WIN.  

No.  Actually, Olympians have access to the best of healthcare available.  The Chinese athletes have used cupping for, well, probably since they’re been in the Olympics.  But they covered up the marks with makeup so as to avoid controversy.  People may think they’re doing something illegal, you know.  

But yes, the Olympic controversy.  The people in power discouraging others to not do cupping because, of course, the people may have less of a need for over-priced drugs and injections or potentially dangerous surgeries.  

gweneth cuppingThen there are the others who just think cupping is “weird” and “looks painful.”  I saw a few social media comments such as, “People will do anything (new / in the name of science)…”  That’s maybe 50% of Americans, from what I can tell.   

The most common report I get after I cup someone is their spouse that night says, “What did they do to you?!?!?”  

My go-to response: 

  1. This is a part of traditional Chinese medicine.  
  2. It has been used for thousands of years.  
  3. Nothing exists this long that doesn’t work.  

Ok:  the cups are suctioned onto your skin.  That feels weird.  After 10 minutes, you relax into it.  Then it feels actually kind of good.  Maybe a little itchy as the toxins leave your muscle tissue.  We use coconut oil on your skin before we cup so the cups slide around easily and don’t pull your skin too hard.   

I like to think of cupping as a “reverse massage.”  Rather than pushing in, we are pulling out.  

The bruises usually are not painful, just ugly.  Actually, most people enjoy cupping.  I have had a few people complain that it was uncomfortable or feel claustrophobic during the treatment, but by far, most people like it. 

Cupping is to

  • detoxify the muscle tissue,
  • break up calcium deposits, and
  • ease pain away.  

imageIn our office, we use fire cups.  I light a cotton ball on fire (!) using 90% alcohol and forceps.  After swiping the inside of the glass “cup” (like a small round glass) with the lit cotton ball, I quickly remove the fire and place the cup onto the patient’s back or shoulders.  

The fire removes the oxygen so the cup sticks onto your skin – like a vacuum.  You don’t feel any heat, though.  You will only feel the cool glass on your skin.

Several cups are used to thoroughly cover the pain area.  After about 15 minutes, we move the cups around to cover any missed areas.  

It takes about 3 – 4 weekly sessions to complete a “round” of cupping.  Ideally, the bruises become lighter each time until they are unnoticeable.  When this happens, you are done!      


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