Updated: May 15, 2020
Massage cupping is a powerful self-care tool for any practitioner, athlete, or clients that utilize their body. Through our daily lives we put ourselves at risk of creating muscular dysfunctions by overusing our bodies, develop inflammation and lymph, and holding our posture that develops shorted muscles. Cupping is a way to alleviate these issues or at least assist in slowing down the effects it puts on the body. Luckily, there are a variety of cups that can be used for different aspects and contours of the body. The 3 most common ways to use cups can be separated into: dynamic cupping, static cupping, and myofascial decompression.
How Cupping Affects the Body
Cupping has a wide variety of benefits on the body as a whole. The cups create a lift in the tissue that affects the muscular system by loosening the fascia, relaxing muscles, and releasing adhesions and scar tissue.
For anyone with a lack of circulation, or an old injury, you may have stagnation built up. Stagnation refers to fluids that has been trapped in your tissue, usually blood, and were never properly circulated out. This stagnation creates chronic pain, postural dysfunctions and limits range of motion. Cupping pulls this stagnation to the superficial layers of the tissue to drain out through the lymphatic ducts allowing proper circulation to be restored. This means tissue can have the proper nutrients delivered to the area which benefits tendons, ligaments, muscles and more.
If you have an injury light cupping can be used to stimulate lymphatic drainage. This will help dilate the lymphatic ducts and increase circulation. A great example of this is someone with a sprained ankle and using a massage cup to start at the foot and move fluid towards the knee with a lift and drag motion.
Dynamic cupping on a region is a simple way to help recover. This is performed by applying an ample amount of emollient, with oil being the best for a comfortable glide and quality seal to the surface. Then initiate a light pressure and move the cups around. This is fantastic for things like the forearms, deltoid, and IT bands. One of my favorite ways to do this is with a cellulite cup in the shower first thing in the morning with soap. For people who sleep on their side or in a fetal position their shoulders can be brought forward overnight and cupping the thoracic region and rotator cuff muscles can immediately bring them back.
Static Cupping is a way to deal with areas that are more sensitive. This involves applying some oil and using cups to lift the tissue. For people with a chronic injury this can be used to lift the stagnation, release muscles and restore proper circulation. These can be used to engage deeper muscles like the diaphragm and intercostals too. Using light suction and placing cups along the rib cage allows us to engage these muscles by simply taking deep breaths. When starting this you should not leave cups on your body for more than 90 seconds until you have more experience.
For those with a knowledge of anatomy, then myofascial decompression (MFD) can be one of the most powerful techniques in your selfcare/massage toolbox. This technique is created when cups left the tissue and the muscle goes through it’s range of motion. This can be intensified if you shorten muscles before putting them on the body. For example, if you wanted to shorten your right pec major you would take our right hand and reach across your body to your left shoulder. This can be a lot more intense when you engage the muscle yourself instead of a therapist putting you through the motion.
What if we were trying to use myofascial decompression for a runner whose calves are in a state of hypertonicity (tight muscles). You start by pointing the toes down, which shortens the calf muscles, the relaxing the muscle fibers the best you can. With some emollient to create a better seal we apply massage cups to the calf. After the cups are applied you can start doing ankle circles to put this muscle through range of motion. If you want to make it even more intense you can stand up and try to walk around. This will start off as intense and become easier the more we engage the muscles thus resulting in a more efficient recovery. If the pressure alarms your nervous system then you should lighten the pressure or start with static cupping first.
A variation can also be done by creating a lift and dragging a cup. While dragging the cup along the muscle, releasing at the end and starting at the beginning again. One of the most effective uses of this is working on the jaw muscles for people with teeth grinding, TMJ, and headaches. This can be done by applying a cup to the jaw muscles and opening/closing the mouth. To take it to the next level you can start at the bottom of the jaw and as you move upwards while opening and closing the mouth. This area can also be performed by creating a suction, opening the mouth, the release the cup and reposition.
Cautions and Considerations
There are some things you should know if you are cupping on your own. Make sure you don’t put cups in areas with no protective tissue like the throat, behind the knee, armpit, and more. This can be advised by a local healthcare professional, preferably one with cupping experience. Cupping also opens up the pores making it easier for heat to escape, so try and avoid the cold.
Cupping is an effective tool to keep your body in peak position. This can be performed anywhere and done every day as long as you don’t over exhaust the muscles. These techniques can release muscles, remove scar tissues and adhesions, boost circulation, increase range of motion, and stimulate the lymphatic system. To encourage you to do this more frequently I suggest to clients to keep these cups in places that are convenient for selfcare like the shower, by the tv, or bedroom.
One of the best reasons to self cup is also to maintain the tissue’s health between massage sessions. Each time you return for treatment work you can dive deeper into issues and have your body prepped for the work you will receive
Cupping is an easy and fun way to maintain your body. It can be used to care for your body as a whole and be performed anywhere. This is a tool everyone should have in their self-care toolbox.