Cupping, also known as myofascial decompression, is a traditional Asian medical technique. Cupping therapy in traditional Chinese Medicine is created by placing a glass or plastic jars on the surface of the body to create a vacuum. After the air is removed (by either air pump or fire) the cups create suction and are placed over the area of pain or muscle tension. The vacuum created by suction cups reduces pain and releases tension, increasing energy and blood circulation and releases tight muscle tissue.


Cupping therapy often produces circular marks from strong suction that brings blood and toxins to the skin surface thus promoting blood and Qi circulation and reducing pain and muscle tightness. The marks left by cupping look like bruises; but unlike a bruise which is caused by a contusion, the dark marks from cupping are made by the cellular waste, or dead cells, pulled to the surface of the skin. The darker the marks, the more toxins are being released. Marks last for a few hours to a few weeks before fading. Cupping supports healthy cellular detoxification and healthy circulation of Qi by encouraging the removal of waste and improving microcirculation and the manufacture of blood cells.


We typically employ the more effective traditional “fire cupping” where glass cups and a flame are used to create suction on the skin. This increases blood flow and manually breaks up fascial adhesions. By creating more space between muscle, fascia, and bone, the range of motion is improved and pain is reduced. Old stagnant blood is flushed out of the tissue and fresh new blood infuses the area to promote faster recovery and healing. Cupping moves stagnant blood which will be eliminated by the body through lymphatic circulation and other organs of elimination.

In traditional Chinese medicine, blood stagnation is a condition that can lead to pain. In reality, the translation of Chinese medical term “blood stagnation” is inaccurate; the actual translation is something closer to “blood silt”. This suggests that there are toxins in the blood, or cellular waste, in the blood that blocks the free flow of blood circulation.


Cupping marks serve as an evaluation tool and help to indicate the severity of blood stagnation. Redness indicates heat; black indicates strong blood stagnation, or old blood (ie. chronic blood stagnation). Purple indicates moderate blood stagnation. Blisters demonstrate toxins and "dampness" in the tissue. If there is no change in the skin color, then the condition is caused by energy Qi stagnation and not blood stagnation.


Cupping sessions are often performed during an acupuncture treatment, but can also be scheduled as a stand-alone treatment. Cupping is also a good alternative to people with fear or intolerance of acupuncture needles. The feeling can be quite intense in some areas but the sensation can be adjusted to allow for more comfort by the practitioner.

© 2018-2028 Dr. Catherine Browne, DAOM, L.Ac.