What the F is Cupping Therapy, and Why Is it a Thing Now?

If you’ve been wondering why people have been walking around with what appears to be large circular bruises running down their spine, you’re not alone. Cupping therapy, an ancient form of alternative medicine, has been gaining popularity amongst athletes and businessmen alike as a way to alleviate pain and promote relaxation without taking pharmaceutical drugs or making lifestyle changes.

Photo by Wikipedia

In traditional cupping therapy, a trained therapist, usually with a background in eastern medicine, heats up 3-7 cups and places them down on the patient’s skin. As the air inside of the cup cools down, it creates a vacuum that suctions your skin and causes the skin to rise and blood vessels to enlarge. The cups are left on the skin for 3 minutes. Some more modern practitioners might use rubber cups with pumps and manually suction the skin to create the same effect. Others use silicon cups that can move around the skin and create a massage-like sensation. Think of it like a reverse massage – rather than applying pressure down to the muscles, cupping uses heat-made pressure to pull the muscles and skin upwards.

Photo by Avery via Flickr Creative Commons.

Recently, cupping has become increasingly popular as a means to loosen muscles, encourage blood flow to the skin, promote relaxation, lower blood pressure and alleviate pain. When cups are moved up and down the skin, the suction-like motion is said to help reduce cellulite and promote a feeling of wellbeing, which can help aid in weight loss. Sometimes cupping therapy is paired alongside acupuncture, and together they stimulate deep relaxation, detoxification and blood flow.

Like acupuncture, cupping follows the five meridian lines on your back which, when applied to those points, can help align and relax qi and open the energy channels along the spine, allowing that energy to move freely around the body. We’ve already seen how medicine is slowly moving away from western, medicine and surgery centered treatments and towards eastern, preventative ideology, and cupping is just another example how mindset is shifting towards these natural treatments rather than relying on pharmaceutical drugs.

Photo by Phoenix Rises Acupuncture.

Or, perhaps it’s more to do with its growing popularity amongst celebrity health nuts. Aside from Gwyneth Paltrow’s endorsements (who, we can’t take seriously because she also recommends vaginal steaming with mugwart), cupping has a whole throng of celebrity advocates, most of whom can be taken seriously. Jennifer Aniston, for instance, is a huge fan of both cupping and acupuncture therapy; and Victoria Beckham and Jessica Simpson have also bought into the craze.

Regardless of how the new phenomenon started, cupping therapy is here to stay, and science is quickly jumping onboard. Though the benefits of cupping may seem far-fetched — like their claims that it can reduce cellulite and promote weight loss — science is constantly confirming how incorporating relaxation and mindfulness into your health routine is a key ingredient to living an optimal life. That being said, if you haven’t tried cupping, it’s time to get on board!


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