Think back to the last Summer Olympics.  Remember when the internet went crazy over those strange circular bruise-looking marks on Michael Phelps?  Suddenly everyone was discussing the therapy that led to those marks.  I’m talking, of course, about cupping.  Funny thing, cupping has been around for a long, long time, long before the Olympics, and I predict long after.  But what is cupping, and how the heck is it beneficial?

Cupping is an ancient, multi-cultural practice that has been used for dozens of ailments. Simply put, it is using the power of negative pressure to treat the body.  A small cup is either applied to the body and air suctioned out, or traditionally, a flame is used to quickly pull the air out of the cup and then placed on the body.  Either way, we want to create a suctioned pull.  Here at Innovative Aesthetics, we use the pump method.  Although there are many maladies that cupping is used for, we mainly stick to working tense muscles that are having trouble responding to deep tissue massage.  You see, with massage, we use the opposite of negative pressure-we sink deep into the muscles with our hands and fingers to loosen and release the muscle fibers, and recirculate the blood and oxygen that are moving sluggishly throughout.   By using negative pressure, we are taking out of the equation the limit of how much positive pressure one can comfortably stand. The negative pressure of the cups use a gentle pull to gradually release the fibers, and allow the the blood and air to pull upward and start flowing in a natural and healthy pattern.  In fact, that’s where the marks come in.  The more stiff and tense a muscle is, the more stagnant and sluggish the blood flow is.  The more stagnant the blood is, the more blood is pulled to the surface, creating a bruise-like mark.  Therefore, the darker the mark, the tenser the muscle.  However, unlike a bruise, these marks fade differently-you won’t have the usual fade to greenish yellow, they will simply get lighter each day, most marks lasting for roughly a week to a week and a half.  Because of these marks, cupping tends to be a more popular winter treatment.  Now, I have no problem letting my marks show in tank tops or swim suits.  They’re completely circular, and really don’t look like bruises or hickeys, although trust me, you will get many jokes about the latter.  I like to use them as a talking point to open people to a new possibility of pain relief, but it is completely understandable to want to be a little discreet.

Whichever season you choose to do your cupping doesn’t really make a difference.  But if you’ve become resigned to living with pain, because massage has reached its limits, or chiropractic care just isn’t getting the whole picture, cupping may be an option to try.  Either way, it’s not going to make anything worse!  A few marks?  Eh, you got this!