7 Things to Know Before You Try Cupping

by Allie Flinn

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Thinking about making a cupping appointment? First, read seven things to know before your first cupping therapy session, including the purpose of cupping, benefits, and what it feels like.

By now, you’ve probably heard about this Chinese healing practice that’s gained popularity thanks to shoutouts from celebs and athletes. But the therapy was around long before celebrities began Instagramming their cupping marks. After all, Traditional Chinese Medicine has used the practice for over 2,000 years.

Curious? So were we. Vanessa, HUM’s Director of Sales, and I set out to see what all the hype was about with the help of Jerry Briones, MD, LAc, at Unity Holistic in West Hollywood, California.

What to Know Before Your First Cupping Appointment

Keep reading to learn about the basics of cupping therapy.

1. First, What Is Cupping?

You can think of cupping as an inverse massage. Think about getting a traditional massage: The practitioner applies pressure to your muscles to relieve tension.

So cupping is essentially the opposite. It uses suction from special cups with the purpose of lifting your fascia (connective tissues in your body) and your muscles away from your skeletal system. It sounds a bit terrifying but actually doesn’t hurt that badly (more on that in a second).

The idea is that this suction helps create healthier fascia. From there, the benefits of cupping kick in, which can include:

  • increased flexibility
  • faster muscle recovery
  • improved blood flow
  • better energy
  • less inflammation
  • more relaxation

2. There Are Multiple Types of Cupping

The most common types of cupping are fixed and moving treatments.

  • Fixed cupping: the practitioner applies and leaves the cups in place for a few minutes
  • Moving cupping: the practitioner applies oil to your skin before putting on and sliding cups around your back (Vanessa and I tried this type)

Also, to get suction, many places use fire to create heat, or a special mechanism that sucks the air out of the cups.

Chinese Medicine doctor using fire to prepare for cupping therapy treatment

3. Cupping Therapy Only Takes a Few Minutes

From start to finish, the whole cupping experience took about 10 minutes.

Note: Like many cupping practitioners, Dr. Jerry typically combines both cupping and acupuncture. You can, however, do cupping as a solo treatment. Vanessa and I opted to get both, bringing our total treatment times up closer to an hour.

4. Cupping Doesn’t Hurt, But It Can Feel Weird

Wondering what cupping therapy feels like? It felt pretty much how you’d expect a suction cup pulling your skin, muscle, and fascia away from your bones would feel: somewhere between not super pleasant and stubbing your toe.

Vanessa, on the other hand, didn’t think it hurt at all. She describes it as a soothing, relaxing experience that felt like an active massage.

I would agree; once the initial discomfort I felt went away, it was relaxing. It felt similar to someone using 10 vacuum attachments on my back (read: not painful, but definitely odd).

5. You Can Get Cupping Done All Over Your Body

When it comes to cupping therapy, you’re not limited to your back.

That said, the back is a common area to get cupping done (as evidenced by the aforementioned celebrity Instagram photos). But you can also do it on your thighs, arms, or pretty much anywhere.

Impressively, one study found that that cupping can help reduce chronic neck pain and improve well-being. Another found that it was effective at relieving knee pain.

Cupping - The Wellnest by HUM Nutrition

6. Cupping Marks Typically Last for a Few Days

Next, Dr. Jerry says that the bruising you see leaving those distinctive cupping marks isn’t necessary for a successful treatment. For that reason, he tries to keep them minimal.

Vanessa didn’t walk away with any cupping marks. My skin, however, bruises very easily. Add in the fact that I look like a thick layer of sunscreen perpetually covers me, and I knew I’d see marks after my treatment. (You can see how red my skin got in the photo above.)

So how long did my cupping marks last? Thankfully, it was only a few days. It looked like the Flukeman from The X-Files attacked me, but again, it wasn’t painful.

7. Make Sure You Find the Right Practitioner

Perhaps the most important tip on how to prepare for cupping is to find a skilled practitioner so you can fully reap cupping therapy benefits.

Here’s how:

  • Find someone who’s qualified. In other words, look for a cupping professional who’s licensed and went to an accredited school.
  • Look for someone with good energy. Vanessa describes that, during the acupuncture, Dr. Jerry had a really good touch. He was gentle and quick, key traits to have when someone is sticking needles in you. She also describes that his energy was very calming, which helped her relax during both parts of the session.

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