Thinking about making a cupping appointment? Read this first.
By now, you’ve probably heard about cupping, a Chinese healing practice that has gained popularity recently thanks to celebrities and athletes like Jennifer Aniston and Michael Phelps. But the therapy was around long before celebrities began Instagramming their cupping marks. Traditional Chinese Medicine has used the practice for over 2,000 years. Today, proponents of the treatment claim it can help speed recovery, reduce inflammation, and promote relaxation.
Curious? So were we. Vanessa Lee, HUM’s Director of Sales, and I set out to see what all the hype was about with the help of Dr. Jerry Briones at Unity Holistic in West Hollywood, California. Here: seven things to know before your first cupping treatment.
It’s Essentially an Inverse Massage
Think about getting a massage: The practitioner applies pressure to your muscles to relieve tension. Cupping is the opposite. It uses suction from special cups to lift 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, which translates into more flexibility and better muscle recovery. Also, improvements are made in both blood and energy flow.
There Are Multiple Types of Cupping
Fixed cupping and moving cupping are the most common types. In the former, the practitioner applies the cups, which are left in place for a few minutes. The latter involves the practitioner applying oil to your skin before putting on the cups, and then sliding them around your back. (Vanessa and I tried the moving treatment.)
To get the suction, many places use fire to create heat, or a special mechanism that sucks the air out of the cups.
It Only Takes a Few Minutes
From start to finish, the whole cupping experience took about 10 minutes.
Note: Dr. Jerry (as he’s known by staff and patients) typically combines cupping and acupuncture, as do many cupping practitioners. You can, however, do cupping as a solo treatment. Vanessa and I opted to get both cupping and acupuncture, bringing our total treatment times up closer to an hour.
It Feels Weird
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).
You’re Not Limited to Your Back
The back is a common area to get cupping (as evidenced by the aforementioned celebrity Instagram photos). But you can do it on your thighs, arms, or pretty much anywhere. One study found that that cupping could help reduce chronic neck pain and improve well being. Another found that it was effective at relieving knee pain.
Those Marks Will Last for a Few Days
Also, Dr. Jerry says that the bruising you see leaving those distinctive cupping marks isn’t necessary for a successful treatment, so he tries to keep them to a minimum. Vanessa experienced no 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.) The marks lasted for a few days and it looked like the Flukeman from The X-Files attacked me, but it wasn’t painful.
Finding the Right Practitioner Is Key
Find someone who’s qualified (read: a licensed and trained practitioner who’s graduated from an accredited school). You also want to look for someone with complementary 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.