At The Missoula Meridian, we no longer primarily practice glass cupping/favor the glass cupping method, although we love how beautiful and traditional they are. We've found that silicone suctions cups are our favorite. The suction increases circulation to the tissue below it and has similar effects to that of a deep tissue massage. We are often asked, "exactly what is happening in the body during cupping"? Here is our detailed description of the process:
Biomedically speaking, when the vacuum created within the cup draws the tissue inside of it, small surface capillaries are broken, creating the dark coloring left behind by the cup. To see the benefit in this, it's important to understand the job of these capillaries. Capillaries are the only blood vessels where gas and nutrient exchange can take place between blood and tissue fluids. They are microscopic, barely wider than a red blood cell. Their thin walls allow the exchange of nutrients and waste. When these capillaries are broken, the body immediately comes in to repair them, creating a flush of blood (increased circulation) and of course with that, more oxygen and nutrients to replenish the area. A major purpose of cupping is to move blood that has been stagnant in these capillaries. Stagnant blood is useless as far as bringing in oxygen and removing CO2. You can also see the benefit that having new capillaries could have on the tissues- increased efficacy of local nutrient and waste exchange. Then there is of course the mechanical manipulation of the connective and muscle tissue underneath the cups. When the cups are slid, they pull up on the tissue below them, warming and softening the areas the same as a massage would. The same happens when they are kept still, but this has more of a "releasing" effect on the specific tissue area or muscle underneath the cup. The most common and beneficial area to cup is the back. However, they can technically be placed on any fleshy area large enough to fit the cup like the thighs, calves, chest, and arms. We may also use small silicone cups on the face during a Skin Vitality treatment or to relax the tissues of the face (ie. headaches, jaw pain, sinus pressure).
Depending on the individual and how long the cups are retained on the body, the cups will leave a circular mark that is called "sha". This is not a bruise and isn't painful to the touch like a bruise. As mentioned above, it's the result solely of capillary rupture, not of a traumatic blow to the tissues as in a bruise from bumping your leg into a table. If blood has been sitting in one area for some time, the sha will be very dark in appearance when that blood is removed to the surface. Multiple cupping sessions often result in a less dramatic appearance of sha, this is because blood is flowing freely so the blood that comes to the surface is more of a red hue rather than a dark purple coloration.
Within the Chinese medical tradition, cupping was described as early as 281 CE. Practitioners applied cups-made in earlier times of animal horn, then of bamboo, and finally glass-to areas of the body that needed increased qi and blood flow. They saw that dark coloring appeared on the surface of the skin and that this must mean that stagnated qi and blood were being brought to the surface to be washed away by the "wei qi" or protective qi. This would decrease pain and result in the free flow of qi and blood in the body, which is seen as the cornerstone of optimal health. Not only did they see the positive physical affects on the muscle tissue but also recognized that cupping could be used over specific acupuncture points to stimulate or drain/calm them. They could be applied over organ areas on the back to strengthen them or reduce an excess in them, as in the case of the lungs containing phlegm during a chest cold. By the time of the Tang dynasty (618-907), cupping was one of the main treatments for tuberculosis. Hippocrates mentioned it in his works and thought it would draw excessive humours (fluids) to the surface of the body.
Today these indications are the same and cupping therapy is known to be a powerful adjunct to acupuncture treatments.
Andrea has a background in both Chinese medicine and bodywork traditions. She brings these backgrounds to her cupping style and believes that seeing both the Chinese energetic and musculoskeletal indications of this therapy make for a more dynamic treatment. She uses cupping when indicated within an acupuncture treatment.
Follis, C. (2014) Biomedicine Review. Terinese Press.
Cupping Therapy, http://broughttolife.sciencemuseum.org.uk