Updated: Apr 7
Massage Cupping is a skill that is extremely versatile. It can be used to achieve a more thorough massage, while also saving our bodies during sessions and offering self-care for those difficult areas all therapists need. The more you experiment with cups, the more you will learn and gradually cupping will become not only an essential part of your sessions, but an extension of your hands. Once you understand the marks, they can make your future sessions more productive and potentially boost your business.
How cupping works and the benefits
Cupping has the simple concept of lifting the tissue. Instead of a downward pressure, it creates an upward lift which is sometimes referred to as reverse pressure. The reverse pressure creates a stronger release of the muscles, immediately increasing circulation. This is denoted by the hyperemia along the skin as the cup moves. Cupping stimulates the lymphatic system, allowing fluids to effectively drain out. Rigid soft tissue such as adhesions and scar tissue is able to be released as well. The lift loosens the fascia, accomplishing the same results as myofascial work; this can be noticed when the tissue is engaged with a cup and the device is twisted. Finally, the reverse deep tissue the cups create engages the parasympathetic system and causes deeper states of relaxation.
What are the marks?
Cupping can leave marks/discolorations on the body which are often mistaken for bruises. Bruises are caused by trauma to the tissue and internal damage, whereas cupping is bringing what was already in the treatment area to the surface -- typically blood, lymphatic fluids, and sometimes toxins. These fluids can become trapped in the muscle tissue Over time this limits range of motion, causes chronic pain, and creates a lack of circulation in and out of the tissue. Cupping brings these fluids to the lymphatic layer, allowing them to properly flow out. The darker the mark, the more chronic the issue. This can be used as a diagnostic tool to aid in identifying where bigger issues are, as they may need repeated work. You can also think of the marks as advertisements -- when your clients walk out the door, they will hopefully start conversations and attract interest for future clientele. If you are worried about this, I recommend putting educational information on a pamphlet or on your website for reference.
How to use Cups
Cupping can be done in a variety of ways depending on how much time you have, how healthy the tissue is, and your knowledge of muscles and anatomy trains.
Deeper work may be difficult for some clients, as it can be intense. Cupping can be used to prep the areas by placing static (no movement) cups on the spot you want to treat. . It’ll help relax the area and promote blood flow while other areas are worked . Often when cups are left in one place, and they aren’t so intense that they cause pain, people forget that the cups are there. This happens because the nervous system determines that the cups are not a threat.
Dynamic cupping involves moving the cups along the body and can be more intense, but often yields better results. This allows us to go along the muscle and have a more thorough engagement of the underlying tissue. Lighter movement with cups can stimulate the lymphatic system. This involves knowing where the lymphatic ducts are and performing a light lift, moving the cups along the lymphatic duct paths, releasing, and repeating. If you know where rigid soft tissue is located (i.e. adhesions and scar tissue) you can perform with fiber and cross fiber frictions to help mobilize the tissue in that location.
Finally, Myofascial Decompression combines static cupping with the movement of the body. If you have a working knowledge of anatomy, you can use the muscular system and its functions to your advantage. This involves shortening the muscles, applying cups, and moving the muscles or muscle groups through ranges of motion. The movement can be done by the client; it is often more intense and allows for the clients not to go through the proper range of motion, but can save time. When the therapist does the motion for the client, they can listen to the tissue, move at the right speed, and make sure they are moving the muscle through the correct path. The therapist can help to make it less intense for the client. This can be a powerful tool to increase range of motion and loosen up the fascia and anatomy trains of the body.
Reduce body stress during sessions.
Cupping can save the body and hands of the therapist during sessions. Using techniques like myofascial decompression and dynamic cupping can be used in place of deep tissue. Instead of using an elbow down the back -- more specifically the Erector Spinae Group -- a cup may be used . If you want downward pressure, you can follow it up with a fist or light forearm behind the cup.
Trigger points sometimes require a practitioner to use thumbs more than is comfortable for the body. With cupping, you can easily set a cup on the trigger point, move to work another area, then come back and finish with less effort
When it comes to self-care, good forearm and shoulder work is nearly impossible without sacrificing the other arm. Cupping allows us to do deep and thorough work on our arms with minimal effort. It will help them relax, promote blood flow for healing, and drain lactic acid build up.
Cupping can be a powerful tool whether you use it for clientele or for self-care. It is a way to release and provide healing to the body, and can be utilized in a variety of ways. When working with clients you can prep areas, stimulate lymphatic flow, release soft tissue and more. Since cupping can be used statically, dynamically, or with myofascial decompression you will find yourself experimenting during sessions to achieve new and better results. This will make sessions overall more fun and engaging for you and your clients. After a long day of massage or maybe an active day in your personal life, you can go home and use the cups on yourself to help you recover for the next day. Cupping is one of the best ways to boost your massage therapy business and will make it a better experience for both therapist and clientele.