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by Danielle Clark-Fox

Massage cupping is a manual technique re-gaining popularity across the country. There are plenty of therapist personal touches and derivations from its traditional roots in Chinese Medicine. So how about an overview of where it came from, current popular techniques and how it can be beneficial to you?

Massage cupping can be traced as far back as 1500 BC in Ebers Papyrus- oldest known medical textbook. Massage cupping is a facet of Traditional Chinese Medicine, known for short as TCM. It became popular in the US and Europe from 1800 to approximately 1940, falling out of favor at the beginning of WWII. In TCM and during it’s European and North American popularity it was used to assist in clearing of chest congestion, diversion of blood flow during/after a surgery, headache resolution, realign Qi, treat TMJ disorders and improve overall connective/soft tissue integrity. With the exception of blood flow diversion regarding surgery cupping is used for the same issues today.

The cups themselves can be made of various materials depending on the type of technique used. Most current cups are made of glass, silicone, plastic or balloon topped plastic/glass. The 2 most common techniques are static or movement. Typically glass or plastic cups are used for static techniques while silicone is best for movement.

Static cupping can be approached in 2 ways, stationary over a problem area or flash cupping for aligning Qi or meridians. Flash cupping involves a series of cups aligned with a particular Qi, meridian, Chakra or blockage line which are cyclically set and removed over a period of 5-15 minutes. Flash cupping is typically used to open up a larger area or address a systemic issue.

Movement cupping uses emollient; is typically addressing a more superficial area and can cover a larger body area such as the back most effectively. Even when using a movement approach a cup can be “parked” over a trouble spot for a minute or two. Movement cupping is also a great medium to incorporate herbs such as arnica, lavender, essential oils or liniments.

Fire cupping is the deepest form of massage cupping, and most aligns with TCM. A piece of cotton is dipped in alcohol, placed inside a glass cup and quickly removed as the cup is placed on the patient. As the heat dissipates suction is created between the patient and cup. This is the type of cupping most likely to bruise or leave a longer lasting reddened area over the treatment site.

There are a few precautionary conditions/situations to massage cupping you should be aware of. If you are taking blood thinners, are prone to bruising/bleeding due to a medical condition or have very thin/fragile skin massage cupping and especially deeper cupping techniques may not be right for you. Also anyone with an active skin infection or open wound should not be cupped in the area.

Considering how safe and diverse of a technique massage cupping is, it can be a great way to explore more of the manual therapy world- and don’t forget to have some fun with it!

Dr. Fox is a Physical Therapist at Boston Sports Medicine