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  • Writer's pictureKirby Clark, MMT

Cupping: What To Expect

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

Have you ever had Cupping Therapy? Over the last decade, Cupping has become one of the major trends of the massage profession, but what exactly can you expect from a Cupping session?

Types of Cups

The first thing you should familiarize yourself with is that there are many different types of Cups that your massage therapist might employ. And there are advancements and evolutions in the technology and marketing for Cupping Therapy constantly! Currently, there are three main types of cups that your therapist is likely to use; glass, plastic, and silicon.

I’ve made a TikTok video that goes more in depth about the differences between the material the cups are made of. For now a general rule of thumb is that glass tends to have a stronger suction and is more difficult to move or massage with. Plastic cups are a good middle ground in terms of suction and move-ablitiy. While silicon is the latest advancement and can have a lesser suction strength but is easily moved or massaged with. Your therapist may have a cup set they are loyal to or they may switch up which material they use dependent on what their clientele (and their conditions) look like.

Physical Expectations

When cups are applied to the body, you as the client can expect an unfamiliar warmth sensation as well as a pull or stretch on your muscle and skin tissues. But not pain. If you experience pain with the cups, you should report it immediately and the therapist should adjust the suction strength, size, or location of the cups used. You may also experience a short period of tenderness in the regions where cups were applied but massage following a cupping session can help reduce that (as well as following through well on your self-care practices). Because blood pressure can also vary after cupping, you may experience lightheadedness or even thirst.

Full benefits of cupping therapy are experienced in 5-10 sessions. You have to stay consistent with the work- this (like regular massage) isn’t a one-and-done kind of deal. You should have this in mind when exploring cupping therapy and commit to a series of sessions featuring the cups. Be aware that benefits of cupping tend to be short lived when used to address emotional or chronic conditions.

Cup Marks

And finally, everyone’s favorite subject, cup marks! Yes, Cup Marks- NOT bruises! The suction and altered circulation will result in moderate to significant discoloration in the treated body region. The first session will result in more intense marking, but the more applications you experience the less intense this result should be. Your therapist can also help reduce the severity of cup marking with light-to-medium strength suction and gradually building your tolerance to the suction strength up over consecutive sessions. Cup marks should fade within 10 days or less- these days cup marks have become something of a fashion statement, they’re the hip, cool status symbol to show off your bodywork!

Some considerations your therapist should keep in mind that can affect the markings include the constitution of the client, the body region or location where cups are applied, the size of the cups, the strength of the suction, how long the individual applications last, and the client’s previous cupping experience. A darker cup mark does NOT equate to a better or more effective treatment. Personally, I don’t make a habit of “reading” cup marks and don’t use them as a diagnostic tool in any way. Your massage therapist should not be using fire to get the cups to suction, in fact nothing besides the cups and/or a suction pump should be used to get the vacuum effect to happen with the cups. Always know that bruising (that is pain and blanching when the marks are pressed upon) and bloodletting should never happen as a result of cupping therapy at the hands of a massage therapist.

Peace and Healing,

Kirby Clark Ellis, MMT, BCTMB

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