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TCM cupping on back

Exploring the Healing Art of Cupping: Techniques, Benefits, and Frequently Asked Questions

15 Jan 2024

By: Kang Ting Tan

What is cupping?

Cupping is a form of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) therapy that involves the placement or movement of glass, plastic or bamboo cups along our body’s meridian points to stimulate specific parts of the body. This increases surface micro perfusion which results in pain resolution.

How does cupping work?

“Where there’s stagnation, there will be pain. (不通则痛).

 Remove the stagnation, and you remove the pain.” (通则不痛)

Pain may be an indication of a possible stasis in your body.  

The suction created causes the vasodilation (widening or opening up of blood vessels) of superficial capillaries. This promotes the movements of Qi and blood circulation of the stagnated area. Prolonged increment of vascular pressure leads to ruptured capillaries, which is reflected as the cupping marks. The degree of discoloration of the distinctive, circular “bruises” indicate the level of blood and Qi stagnation, toxin accumulation or dampness accumulation in your body. The darker the color, the more stasis present. 

Cupping activates the lymphatic system to drain excess fluids and toxins. Anti-inflammatory substances are also drawn to the area. This promotes healing via increased local tissue metabolism, reduces local inflammation, muscle soreness, and enhances muscle recovery. 

Cupping improves microcirculation of affected areas, promoting angiogenesis in tissues and cell repair, enhancing muscle strength. 

Cupping restores the body’s natural flow of energy by clearing the stasis and hence relieves pain. 

What are the different techniques of cupping?

  • Flash cupping: involves quick, repeated and release of cups on the body to improve circulation
  • Gliding cupping: gliding suction cups over after a specific meridian pathway or muscle groups after applying oil to enhance muscle relaxation 
  • Stationary cupping: suction-only method. The cups placed on a specific area for 5 to 15 minutes to allow for deep muscle stimulation
  • Wet/blood-letting cupping: To release stasis, toxins or edema on chronic problem areas

Who is suitable for cupping ?

Cupping is suitable for most patients except those who have certain conditions such as

  • Sensitive or skin with ulcers, swelling, inflammation, infection or wound
  • High fever or convulsions
  • Bleeding disorder or on blood thinners such as warfarin
  • Pregnant women (stomach, lower back, and specific points must be avoided) 

Benefits of cupping from a TCM point of view

  • Pain relief
  • Relaxes stiff muscles 
  • Remove blood stasis
  • Expel cold-dampness
  • Clear heat-toxins
  • Facilitate the energy flow in meridian channels 
  • Stress relief
  • Combat fatigue 
  • Boost immune system 
  • Improve muscle endurance 
  • Reduces DOMS* (Delayed onset muscle soreness) 

*DOMS is the stiffness and pain felt in the muscles for many hours after a strenuous exercise 

Frequently asked questions

Cupping Marks and its colors’ meanings

How long does the cupping marks take to go away?

  • Light pink: fade within an hour
  • Bright Red: fade between 3 days to a week
  • Dark red/purplish red: up to 2 weeks 

These marks will slowly fade and completely disappear after about 1-2 weeks depending on your skin’s regenerative ability. The marks will visibly be lighter and lighter and fade faster with regular cupping treatments 

Please do let your TCM physicians know beforehand if you do not wish to have marks on certain areas.

How often should I do cupping ? 

It is recommended to do 1-2 times a week. 

Are there any side effects from cupping?

Though cupping marks resemble bruises,  it is often painless and does not involve tissue damage found in trauma-induced bruises. 

Cupping is generally safe with no side effects.  However, some may experience dizziness or have sensitive skin around the treatment area. Hence, do not undergo cupping if you are too hungry, tired or thirsty. 

Note: Information provided is not a substitute for a physician or any form of medical care. Individual symptoms differ due to different body constitutions and diagnosis. One should consult a licensed TCM practitioner for accurate diagnosis and treatment.