Cupping Therapy – My personal experience

Traditional cupping session.

They say there is a fine line between pleasure and pain, but there is no pleasure in those who have chronic pain or stress. As someone in the industry I often trade services with other massage and body work professionals to keep me in tip top shape. The past several months have been stressful ones (I won’t bore you with the details, but lets just say we kept getting hit again and again with situations out of our control that certainly piled up, literally, on my shoulders!). I did my ‘usual’ stress reducing plan: eating healthier, getting regular massage, heat packs and dry heat sauna, and of course my aromatherapy baths that usually melt me into a little puddle of joy… but this time, the pain upon my shoulders would not cease. It felt like a constant 50lb bar was being crushed into them non stop. Anti-inflammatory medications had little effect on me. What to do? Well, I believe that our bodies need to be ‘shaken’ up a bit – that’s why it’s a wonderful thing to experience a different touch or modality when your tried and true isn’t quite enough. A different approach at times, can truly make a difference in your body’s ability to heal itself. So lucky for me that I ran into Tzu, a fellow massage therapist that has now begun to offer cupping in her practice.

Cupping for those of you unfamiliar with the modality, is an ancient Chinese method of causing local congestion. A partial vacuum is created in cups placed on the skin either by means of heat or suction. This draws up the underlying tissues. When the cup is left in place on the skin for a few minutes, blood stasis is formed and localized healing takes place. My session was done with the assist of a machine to which my therapist could control the suction strength.

The theory behind this practice is that the application will open up the chi (or the meridians), release toxins, increase and activate the lymphatic system and can penetrate deep into the muscles, similar, yet different to a deep tissue massage. The treatment is most often sought out for treatment of pain, congestion, coughing, and a variety of other issues.

Upon entering the office, Tzu warmly greeted me and took me to the massage room. There were no special instructions that I needed to follow. I told her that I was mainly looking to ease the pain and muscle adhesion that was plaguing across my neck and shoulders for the last two months.  Since much of my pain was stress induced and as the stresses were finally beginning to ease, I felt this would be a good adjunct therapy to get me ‘back to good’. I was excited to try it. I laid down and Tzu began on my back, placing one bulb and then the other on either side of my shoulders and adjusted the suction as needed. She moved them at different intervals across my back on either side of my spine and my neck. She increased or decreased the suction as required. As with regular massage much of my pain was referred pain from another area. This is quite evident when getting a cupping session because you are often left with marks (slight to medium bruising) that gives you a map of your soft tissue distress. The procedure wasn’t too painful – although I did have some ‘hot spots’ that flared up quickly. Mostly is feels as if someone is pulling at your skin, once the skin is released you can feel an immediate lightness in the surface area. At one point the therapist creates the suction on the spine and moves the ball up the spine. This was my favorite sensation of the actual cupping treatment. Tsu also combines heated pillow massage and a gentle muscle manipulation massage along with the cupping session, this brings her treatment to 90 minutes.

So what did I think?  Well, I am glad that I tried it and the results of my treatment were similar to a very deep tissue massage. I can’t say that my pain is gone, but it feels like the tightness has subsided a bit. My husband was appalled at the way my back looked with little circles of various colors of bruising from minor to a bright purple – even after I had shown him pictures of what to expect prior to it – it was unsettling to him. My body feels like it’s had a change in structure to the underlying fascia, which is what I had hoped. Although I do think I expected a deeper and more immediate relief than I experienced, I think this should be considered as another natural alternative to chronic pain and that others may have different results depending on what is being treated.

Would I recommend it? Yes – I believe that our bodies are capable of tremendous self healing and a good therapist can assist you with a treatment plan that is right for you. Since every therapist brings a different skill set and a personal philosophy to their table, it’s important to connect with different modalities when your tried and true are limiting your scope of healing. Cupping touts many benefits, some that I believe and a few I think are a bit far fetched depending on the research. You simply should do your homework and ask the questions before your appointment and convey your needs and expectations to your therapist. You know your body better than anyone and you know what is right for your body. As the ‘leader’ of YOUR health care team you owe it to yourself to try non-invasive treatments to assist with your quality of life. Also, on that note, as the leader of your health care team it is ALWAYS within your power to stop a treatment that is not what you expect or is painful. Listen to your body, listen to your intuition. Be pro-active in all aspects of your health.

Where can you find it?  Cupping is available by Licensed Massage Therapists or Acupuncturists. Look for those who are accredited, licensed and certified in the practice. As with any health care, be it holistic or traditional, you should check with a physician or other trusted health care provider to be sure that the treatment is safe for you.

In the Dayton area you may wish to contact Tzu at for a cupping session. She is a consummate professional and will take great care of you. Tell her Brenda sent you!