Cupping therapy, although relatively unknown in the Western world up until now, has become an extremely popular treatment method in recent years. Massage therapists often use cupping as a technique alongside other types of massage therapy or modalities. Let’s look at the area of the body cupping acts on (the fascia) and how it works.
What is Fascia?
Although many people know the basics about their internal organs and muscles, there is one part of the body that is largely neglected in biology class, and that’s the fascia. For massage therapists, the fascia is an essential part of the body that much of their work focuses on. The fascia is a series of interconnective tissue that surrounds the organs, muscles, bones, and nerves. It is often described as the connective threads of a sweater, pulling together all the different parts of the body and allowing us to move easily.
The fascia consists of sheets of connective tissue. These sheets are healthy when smooth, but they can become knotted and tense when injured. Massage therapists can use a variety of techniques to help restore the fascia and break down knots and tension. One of the most effective and targeted methods massage therapists use to treat the fascia is cupping therapy.
How Cupping Promotes Healing in the Fascia
Cupping is an ancient technique that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. Cupping applies direct and sustained pressure to the skin, fascia, and muscles using the power of suction. However, unlike massage, cupping uses negative pressure (a pulling movement, rather than pushing) to achieve several effects at once, including:
- Improving blood flow to an area
- Breaking up scar tissue
- Reducing muscle tension
- Stretching the muscles and fascia
- Increasing range of motion in the joints
Cupping can be used all over the body. For example, the plantar fascia in the foot (which can become tight and cause plantar fasciitis) can be treated with cupping. It is also used on the legs, back, neck, shoulders, arms, and even the face.
Cupping treatment is often offered during a massage therapy session as part of the overall treatment. Your massage therapist may recommend cupping if you have particular areas of discomfort or if there are specific areas of tight fascia or muscles in your body that need to be released.
Types of Cupping
There is no single method of cupping. Depending on the types of cups and techniques your massage therapist uses, the treatment can look slightly different.
Types of Cups
Many types of special-purpose cups can be used. However, the two most common kinds are glass cups (also known as fire glass cups) and rubber or silicone cups (also known as hijama cups or pump cups). In order for glass cups to work, they are heated using a flame, usually using a small torch or lighter, and then placed on the skin. This causes the air to shrink inside the cup, resulting in suction. Silicone cups are placed over the skin and squeezed, displacing air from the cup to cause the suction. There are also hard plastic cups that use a pump gun which creates a vacuum or suction within the cup to decompress and release tissue adhesions.
Dry Cupping and Wet Cupping
Most cupping done in modern massage therapy clinics is dry cupping. Dry cupping involves the placement of glass or plastic cups over the skin and suctioning the air from the cups. Wet cupping is a technique in which the therapist punctures the skin before placing the cup over the punctured area to draw out the blood. At Urban Massage & Wellness, our therapists only provide dry cupping for both safety and hygienic reasons.
In dry cupping, cups are often left on the skin for several minutes to allow the suction to have an effect on the tissue below. There may be slight discomfort (as in massage therapy), but the cups should not be painful. If they are, be sure to alert your therapist.
Running cupping involves moving the suctioned cups around the skin and fascia to massage a larger area of the body. Once the cups are in position, your therapist may move them around without releasing suction to achieve this effect.
Flash cupping involves the quick suction and release of cups on an area of the body. Your therapist may use this technique to rapidly loosen the fascia and muscles, stimulate blood flow to the area, or quickly reduce pain in an area.
Who Should Have Cupping Therapy
Cupping therapy can be a highly effective way to treat the fascial system for tension, pain, and other issues. In many cases, problems in the fascia cause problems in other areas of the body. If you think of the fascia like a sweater with interwoven threads that connect with each other, you can imagine that pulling one thread tight will affect other areas of the sweater.
Some of the injuries and conditions that can be helped through cupping therapy include:
- Various types of acute or chronic pain, including knee pain, back pain, neck pain, and shoulder pain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other gastrointestinal disorders
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Plantar fasciitis
Side Effects of Cupping
Cupping often results in what appears to be bruising of the skin. If you have ever seen someone with perfectly round purple-ish discolouration around their neck or shoulders, you have likely seen someone who recently had cupping treatment. This discolouration occurs as blood capillaries come to the surface of the skin along with lactic acid and metabolic waste in the body, and not due to broken blood vessels, like a bruise. This discolouration is harmless and typically not painful. However, because of this, people with blood disorders and other medical conditions may not be good candidates for cupping. Be sure to share any medical conditions or information with your therapist before a cupping treatment.
Book Cupping Therapy in St. Albert
If you suffer from chronic or acute pain, cupping may be an excellent treatment option for you. We recommend booking an appointment with one of our registered massage therapists to discuss the benefits and risks of cupping and see if it’s a good fit for your treatment plan. Our goal is always to create a treatment plan that focuses on integrative health, promoting healing across your body.