There are many types of cupping the two most popular are; dry, or wet cupping. Wet cupping for some people can provide a more “curative-treatment approach” to patient management whereas dry cupping appeals more to those who want a “therapeutic and relaxing approach”. Preference varies with your practitioner.
The cupping procedure commonly involves creating a small area of low air pressure next to the skin. The cups can be various shapes including balls or bells, and may range in size from 1 to 3 inches (25 to 76 mm) across the opening. Plastic and glass are the most common materials used today, replacing the horn, pottery, bronze and bamboo cups used in earlier times. The low air pressure required may be created by heating the cup up with an open flame and then placing it against the skin. As the air inside the cup cools, it contracts and draws the skin into the cup. There are also less traditional rubber cups available that squeeze the air out and adapt to uneven or bony surfaces. In practice, cups are normally used only on softer tissue that can form a good seal with the edge of the cup. They may be used singly or with many to cover a larger area. They can be used by themselves or some practitioners place the cup over an acupuncture needle to help increase the therapeutic value. Skin can also be lubricated, allowing the cup to move across the skin slowly as a massaging technique. Pulling the muscle away from the bone verses pushing the muscle into the bone as you would get in a standard massage.
Depending on the specific treatment, skin marking is common after the cups are removed. This may be a simple red ring that disappears quickly or a purple to red ‘suction’ mark. The discoloration left by the cups is normal, it’s our mission to bring the blood to the surface to break down muscle fibers. Dark circles may appear where the cups were placed, but are not the same as a bruise caused by blunt-force trauma. Usually treatments are not painful and they can be 5 minutes or 35 minutes depending on the severity of the issue.
Cupping involves soaking a cotton ball in 95% alcohol. The cotton is then clamped by a pair of forceps and lit via match or lighter. The flaming cotton ball is then, in one fluid motion, placed into the cup, quickly removed, and placed on the skin. By adding fire to the inside of the cup, oxygen is removed (which is of course replaced with an equal volume of carbon dioxide) and a small amount of suction is created by the air cooling down again. Massage oil may be applied to create a better seal as well as allow the cups to glide over muscle groups (e.g. trapezius, erectors, latisimus dorsi, etc.) in an act called “moving cupping”.