Crazy for Cupping!

Photos by Eliesa Johnson, courtesy of Constellation Acupuncture & Healing Arts   

Photos by Eliesa Johnson, courtesy of Constellation Acupuncture & Healing Arts


"Are you a swimmer?" smirked a random dude (who noticed my red, circular marks on my shoulder), at a wedding I was at, recently.

It's true. A large number of people probably are only familiar with cupping because of Michael Phelps, retired American competitive swimmer. Phelps, who is the most-decorated Olympian of all time (winning 28 medals), was frequently seen sporting those purple and red "bruises" on his body, while competing.

Now, for those of you who don't know, cupping has been around for thousands of years, and benefits many more than just swimmers. Today, I'm sharing about my personal experiences with this ancient-Chinese technique, the benefits it's provided me and where you can get in on some cupping, too!


What is Cupping?

Photos by Eliesa Johnson, courtesy of Constellation Acupuncture & Healing Arts

Photos by Eliesa Johnson, courtesy of Constellation Acupuncture & Healing Arts

Cupping is the practice of using glass, or plastic cups to create a suction effect on the skin to loosen muscles and connective tissue, and increase circulation. The suction draws stagnant and congested blood to the surface.

An old Chinese proverb states, “Where there’s stagnation, there will be pain. Remove the stagnation, and you remove the pain.”

Pain can be a result of stagnation, congestion or a blockage of Qi (vital energy, lymph, fluids, phlegm and blood), (Pacific College of Oriental Medicine). The thought with cupping is that by moving the blockage (stagnation) away from the muscles and tissues, to the surface of the skin, the body is more able to heal itself.

What Cupping treatments can do for you:

Below is a list, straight from Constellation Acupuncture & Healing Arts' website, on how cupping can benefit you.

  • Improve headache symptoms: reduce the severity, frequency, and intensity of tension headaches and migraines
  • Relieve body aches, pain, and tension: break up stagnant muscle and connective tissues to help reduce discomfort and promote healing  
  • Promote athletic performance recovery: increase blood circulation and tissue oxygenation, help you recover faster from training sessions 
  • Reduce cold symptoms: help reduce chest congestion and coughing, promote detoxification, support the immune system
  • Manage asthma and allergies: support healthy lung function, reduce chest tightness 
  • Enhance digestion: help reduce bloating and pressure in the abdomen, promote regular bowel movements
  • Lessen anxiety, stress, and insomnia: calm the nervous system, reduces blood pressure, help move out old emotions and energy that may leave you feeling stuck
  • Support maintenance care and prevention: enhance general wellness and help prevent the aggravation of old symptoms as well as the development of new symptoms -- perfect for patients in the maintenance stage of their treatment plan
Photos by Eliesa Johnson, courtesy of Constellation Acupuncture & Healing Arts

Photos by Eliesa Johnson, courtesy of Constellation Acupuncture & Healing Arts

How Does it Work?

There are a few types of cupping I've experienced:

  • Fire Cupping: A practitioner uses a cotton ball, that has been soaked in alcohol, and then set alight, to heat the air inside the cup. As the oxygen inside the cup is consumed, the vacuum is formed.
  • Silicone Cupping: uses flexible, silicone cups. This method has been found to eliminate or at least reduce the "bruising" that generally accompanies cupping.
  • Dry-Cupping with pump: Applying plastic cups (to the surface of the skin) and using a pump to remove air and create suction.

Cups are then left in one place, or can be moved around, to provide more of a deep-tissue massage feel.

How Does it Feel?

In all honesty? Really freaking good! I was a little nervous the first time I experienced cupping (especially fire cupping), but HOLY COW does it feel amazing!

It doesn't hurt. I'd say there's a feeling of "tight", especially in those more painful and delicate areas (like my neck and shoulders). To me, it feels like a deep-tissue massage, and usually, I tend to get some type of message while getting cupped.

Repping my cup marks at the State Fair. Photo taken by Ryan Nelson

Repping my cup marks at the State Fair. Photo taken by Ryan Nelson

Are Those Really Bruises?

The "bruises" - they're usually the main point of concern, right? I can't tell you how many comments I've received from concerned individuals, unsure of the marks all over my body. But are those marks really bruises at all?

Many beg to differ. Bruises are caused by blunt injury or trauma; the impact can break the capillaries, under the skin, which results in the redness. A rush of healing fluids to the site of the injury can contribute to the bruising and redness.

Cupping marks are caused by suction, working to bring toxins to the surface. The main difference? Cupping marks don't cause pain, like bruises do.

Difference in Color

Cupping marks differ in color and intensity based on how many toxins and stagnation is present. The more there are, the darker the marks will be (and the longer they will last) (Cupping Bruises and Marks).

Cupping for me

Photo of me getting cupped, taken by Leah Fifield

Photo of me getting cupped, taken by Leah Fifield

I began getting regular cupping toward the end of May, of this year. I frequent Constellation Acupuncture & Healing Arts - an amazing space located in the North Loop (of Minneapolis, MN), specializing in helping humans heal, through acupuncture, cupping (body and face), massage, breathwork and more! I fell in love with the women-owned business, the women who run the business and the tools they provide to help bodies feel the best they can.

I originally went in for a couple of main concerns:

  • Extreme neck and shoulder pain, which resulted from a car accident I was in, a few years ago. Chiropractor visits, stretches, you name it, did no good for the long-term. I was in pain, and needed a resolution that worked and didn't cost me an arm and leg.
  • Extreme menstrual cramps, which had followed me since I began my period, at age 9. You name it, I tried it. I was desperate for an aid, so I didn't need to be in absolute agony 1-2 days out of the month; potentially missing work and life.

I'll save you the long story and details, but since getting regular (once-a-week) cupping, my period cramps and neck pain has been tolerable! No crying out in pain (literally); no doubling up on every pain pill possible. I've felt lighter, healthier and less in pain.

Another great thing? The ringworm-like-rash I had on my chest for YEARS disappeared just after my first appointment!

I really have nothing but great things to say about this eastern-medicine practice; not only has it helped (and in a more holistic way), but I've saved a TON of money I would usually be spending on band-aid solutions.

Cupping Club

Constellation has a really neat membership called, "Cupping Club", which allows for four, 20-minute cupping sessions/month, for $60! Each week, I can make an appointment (or just walk-in during CC hours). Easy, reasonable and very effective!

Aside from this, I also make an hour-long massage/cupping appointment a few days before my period, just to prepare. This has been the best health-plan I've had in a while!

Photo of me getting cupped. Taken by Leah Fifield

Photo of me getting cupped. Taken by Leah Fifield

Where to Get Cupped?

Cupping, surprisingly, is offered in many locations (and probably in your area)! In case you're extra curious, I created a mini-list of places I'd recommend.

Minneapolis, MN Recommendations

Constellation Acupuncture & Healing Arts

If you live in the Minneapolis area, look up Constellation! It's a gem I can't speak highly enough of! Amy, Kim, Leah, Tatum and (soon) Rhea are amazing; ensuring each customer is treated with love, compassion and the best care possible. Just walking through the doors of the studio calms me.

Spot Spa

Spot Spa is another one of my favorite places, in the Twin Cities! I get regular Brazilian Sugars there (a topic for another post), but they have some great massage-therapists that incorporate cupping into their practice. A spa dedicated to using natural products, and providing quality care - this is another great place to check out!

Des Moines, Iowa Recommendations

Revival Massage Studio

My friend, Clair, gives out some ROCKING massages! I would see her frequently (when I lived in DSM), and she helped me get through Sculpt Teacher Training, as well as life post-car accident. Recently, she has opened her own studio and I couldn't be more proud of her! She specializes in ace medi-cupping, which she says has been great for day-to-day pains with her clients or athletes.

"Cupping is for everyone!" says Clair.

East Village Spa

This is actually where I first met Clair, as she was a massage therapist for this great spa, located in the historic East Village, of DSM. Cassie and her sweet team make every customer feel welcome, as soon as they walk through the door. Cupping can now be incorporated into their massage sessions!

Humboldt, Iowa Recommendations

Cloud 9 Massage Therapy and Skincare

Debbie has been a friend of mine for as long as I can remember, and I remember when she first created her Cloud 9 business; I'm so proud of her! For those of you who might regularly see Debbie for massage, ask about cupping; she can incorporate it into your massage!

Even though she is no longer taking any new massage clients, she's got a rocking skincare side to her business that I'd definitely recommend checking out! Did you know she incorporates facial cupping into her skincare sessions?!

"A facial client can receive benefits from cupping, in their facial service, that treats the skin and muscles of the neck and face," says Debbie.

Humboldt Spine & Rehab

Humboldt is lucky enough to have a full-service chiropractic office, where Drs. Mitch and Mark work to help clients feel more aligned and energized! I have seen Dr. Mitch for multiple ailments, and have always appreciated his personality and health-care plan! I recently found out that the office provides cupping as a service, as well! Check it out!

A lot of us deal with pain, and unfortunately, it can be on a day-to-day basis. Cupping is a wonderful, holistic practice I have found to make me feel better. If you're interested, do your research and book an appointment for yourself!

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