What is Cupping Therapy?

Cupping therapy is a form of traditional medicine used to improve circulation, stimulate lymphatic tissues, and release myofascial and soft tissue tension. Its use dates as far back as 3500 years ago not only by the ancient Chinese, but also by the Egyptians, Greeks, and Eastern Europeans. While the mechanism of how and why it works is debatable and difficult to study, it has lasted through history and has benefitted many people. We have seen it help many of our clients with muscle tension and pain.

How Is It Performed?

Cupping involves the use of silicone, glass, bamboo and plastic cups. In our Burnaby Physiotherapy practice, we use glass cups for our clients.

To create the vacuum in the cup, our registered physiotherapists in Burnaby introduce heat (fire) into the cup and then place the cup on the body.

Do not worry, there is no risk of burning the skin when cupping is done correctly. The air inside the cup is heated up, not the cup itself!

The suction is created by the expansion of air when heated. When the heat source is removed, the air cools, contracts, and a suction is created. The hotter the air generated before, the stronger the suction will be.

The amount of suction is controlled by your Physiotherapist. This is dependent on your condition and your tolerance. Cupping can be done statically (placed on the body) or with movement (cupping massage). It is often placed on acupressure points, areas of tension, or in a particular pattern depending on your condition.

What Conditions Can Benefit From It?

Our Burnaby Physiotherapists use Cupping to help relieve tension and pain of:

What Does Cupping Therapy Feel Like?

Those who have tried cupping therapy have described it as pulling on their skin. This sensation can be intensified by an increased level of suction and with the movement of the cups. Many clients enjoy the sensation of cupping and report feeling more relaxed after the session.

Cupping should not be painful. Your Physio in Burnaby will adjust the cupping technique for those who are sensitive to it.

How Does It Help? Proposed Mechanisms In Research

There are varying hypotheses on why Cupping works. Unfortunately, there is no reliable scientific data to clarify how it works. They are very difficult to research. Regardless of the mechanism, Cupping does indeed work well for particular musculoskeletal conditions.

Neural Mechanism Theory (Pomeranz 2001):

Cupping is often applied to acupuncture points in the body. These points stimulate the small-diameter nerves in muscles. This then sends the signal to the spinal cord, brain, and pituitary.

Chemical transmitters are released including monoamines and endorphins, which help to relieve pain. (Schulte 1996).

Mechanical and Physiological Stimulation

Cupping exerts stress on the layers between the skin, fat, and muscle layers. It can cause local inflammation, which helps to activate the immune and lymphatic systems. Manipulating the different layers can help desensitize the nervous system and decrease pain. (Ji and Woolf 2001)

You may have some degrees of Cupping marks like this

Cupping Therapy MarksWe often remind our clients that this technique may leave marks on the body post-treatment.

You may be going for a beach vacation or wearing a dress that bares your shoulder. And having red circular marks on your body is not something you want. You can discuss this with your licenced Physiotherapist in Burnaby and other techniques can be used.

Why are there marks? What do they mean?

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, circles on the skin from cupping represent stagnation of qi flow. The darker the marks, the more stagnation there is in the body. Cupping therapy is used to help relieve the stagnation and improve qi flow.

In physiological terms, Cupping marks are caused by blood capillaries dilating and breaking underneath the skin. Weaker blood capillaries break with increased suction pressure from the cups.

New blood capillaries are formed to replace them. They are often stronger and more resilient, which may provide improved blood flow to the area.

Improved Blood Flow = Increased Healing

Subsequent sessions of cupping treatment often show fever cupping marks in the skin.

Consult with one of our Burnaby Physiotherapists today to see how we can help!

Rozenfeld E, Kalichman L. New is the well-forgotten old: The use of dry cupping in musculoskeletal medicine. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2016 Jan;20(1):173-178. doi: 10.1016/j.jbmt.2015.11.009. Epub 2015 Dec 1. PMID: 26891653.

Pomeranz B. (2001) Acupuncture Analgesia — Basic Research. In: Stux G., Hammerschlag R. (eds) Clinical Acupuncture. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

Schulte, E., 1996. Complementary therapies: acupuncture: where east meets west. Res. Nurs. 59 (10), 55e57.

Ji RR, Woolf CJ. Neuronal plasticity and signal transduction in nociceptive neurons: implications for the initiation and maintenance of pathological pain. Neurobiol Dis. 2001 Feb;8(1):1-10. doi: 10.1006/nbdi.2000.0360. PMID: 11162235

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