Origins of Cupping

Cupping is a technique which has had many names and many uses for thousands of years.  As a loose definition, cupping is using a negative pressure system on the body.  In traditional eastern medicine, cupping was performed using a glass bowl lined with some form of alcohol.  The cup was faced open end down and a flame would like the alcohol, removing oxygen from the air.  This cup was then immediately placed on the skin to suction to the skin as the oxygen is removed.  This cup would then be left for some time, usually leaving obvious signs of suction on the skin in forms of spherical reddening of the skin, called petechiae (peh-TEE-kee-eye).

Tools of Cupping

Many providers from many disciplines continue to use this same concept.  Some continue to use the glass cups as was traditionally used, but more (less-flammable) options are available.   Most commonly silicon suction cups or plastic suction cups that have a hand pump to control the amount of negative pressure are used.


Types of Cupping

Static Cupping

Static Cupping places one or several cups on a person’s body and leaves them there.  In eastern medicine, the purpose would (loosely) be to move chi or create sha.  From the outside, the goal is to simply create a reddening of the skin.  These leaves the tell tale signs of red circles on a person’s body.  Static cupping can be used to treat many conditions and disease presentations.

Dynamic or Gliding Cupping

Dynamic Cupping uses similar or identical tools as Static Cupping, but instead of the leaving the cup still, the cup is either moved along the skin. This motion can be created externally by a practitioner moving the cup or it can be created internally when placed on the skin and the patient moves themselves around.

Cupping and Active Cupping at Move Better

At Move Better, we are hesitant to call our services just Cupping or Dynamic Cupping.  Eastern medicine has used both methods as a tool that works with a full system of medicine.  Where you perform cupping and how you perform cupping with other services is as important as using the tool itself.  To respect this system of medicine, we prefer to call our services Active Cupping and we use this tool to perform western medicine with objective goals in mind. Active Cupping allow us to improve two major systems: motion and lymphatic drainage.

Active Cupping for Motion

Skin and muscle are meant to move freely and independently of each other.  Through a variety of mechanisms, skin can become adhered to the muscle below it, massively changing how a person moves in that region.  This is very easy to test or see.  By pinching your skin, it should easily separate from the muscle, the forearm is usually an easy place to test this.  Not all areas of your body will be easy to pinch skin on, your inner thigh being a common (and uncomfortable) example of this.  If skin adheres to muscle, this does not allow normal motion.  We often tell patient to imagine squatting deeply with tight inflexible jeans, not comfortable and not easy.  Now imagine performing that same movement in sweatpants, comfortable and easy.

When performing active cupping, it is easy to see and feel where skin is adhered to muscle.  In the picture on the left, you can see a minimal amount of skin is lifting, but just a few inches away on the same person (thanks Dr. Rodney!) and you see much more skin coming up in the picture on the right.

There is also an obvious difference on the receiving end.  Active Cupping a few inches away on the same person can go from 0 to 10 on the pain scale (literally at times) with no changes to pressure from the cup.  You can also have drastic changes in skin response just a few inches away in the same region on the same person or from one limb to the next.  The pictures below were from Dr. Q performing cupping on the same day with the same pressure for the same amount of time.  Notice the drastic differences in skin response from right to left.  This cupping was also performed around left knee pain. It is not uncommon to see an affected side have significant more skin response than an unaffected side, even when not treated at the source of pain.

Active Cupping for Lymphatic Drainage

We also perform Active Cupping to help improve lymphatic drainage.  The lymphatic system can be thought of as your solid waste management system.  Liquid waste is transported by the blood, then filtered by the kidneys.  The waste is then excreted as urine.  Solid waste requires a slower and more complicated process.  Large lymphatic channels exist within the body and ultimately move solid waste into the digestive system to be eliminated.  Many small channels, however, exist underneath the skin.  When skin sticks to muscle, this blocks lymphatic drainage and, in the case of injury, the ability to heal.  If waste accumulates this creates obvious swelling, like a swollen ankle and your sprain it.  It can also accumulate in less obvious ways and quietly create discomfort and delayed healing.  This has been discussed before as it occurs in the lungs but also occurs during trauma.  Our most preferred time to use Active Cupping for lymphatic drainage is after an automotive accident.  The neck is almost always effected and doing active cupping on the upper back and neck has been show to significantly help our patients (and create significant pain relief in this study).

Common Conditions We Treat with Active Cupping

There are a number of common ailments that can be treated using Active Cupping massage, below are some of our most frequent uses:

  • Whiplash to the Neck
  • Low back strain from an automotive accident
  • Knee Pain
  • Shoulder Impingement
  • Nerve Entrapment
  • Numbness in hands or feet
  • Hip tension
  • Upper leg pain
  • IT Band Syndrome
  • Achilles Tendonitis
  • Shin splints
  • Plantar Fasciitis