Generally, cupping is combined with acupuncture in one treatment, but it can also be used alone. The suction and negative pressure provided by cupping can loosen muscles, encourage blood flow, and sedate the nervous system. Cupping is used to relieve many ailments including but not limited to back and neck pain, tense muscles, anxiety, fatigue, migraines, rheumatism, and even cellulite! Once the suction has occurred, the cups can be gently moved across the skin. The suction in the cups causes the skin and superficial muscle layer to be lightly drawn into the cup. Cupping is much like the inverse of massage - rather than applying pressure to muscles, it uses gentle pressure to pull them upward. For most clients, this is a particularly relaxing and relieving sensation. Once suctioned, the cups are either used in a gliding motion in a specific area or left in place for about ten to fifteen minutes while the patient relaxes. As the cup sits the myofascial (connective tissue) structure slowly unwinds to regenerate the entire area. Like acupuncture, cupping follows the lines of the meridians. There are five meridian lines on the back, and these are where the cups are usually placed. Using these points, cupping can help to align and relax qi, as well as target more specific maladies. By targeting the meridian channels, cupping strives to 'open' these channels - the paths through which life energy flows freely throughout the body, through all tissues and organs, thus providing a smoother and more free-flowing Qi (life force).
The most common and misunderstanding regarding one of the most powerful and beneficial after effects of cupping is the marks that are left on the skin. Cupping can leave marks which indicate that stagnation or disease has been moved from the deeper tissue layers to the surface, allowing fresh oxygenated blood to nourish and heal the underlying areas. Any suction device left long enough in one place will loosen and pull this agent out and up to the skin surface. Most people don't view these marks as a healing process but it actually is. The color and patterns of the marks depend on the level of stagnation in that area. The range of color from the marks can vary from bright red to dark purple, usually lasting anywhere from 3 days up to one week, sometimes longer if the person is very sick or sedentary. If there is no stagnation present, there will be only a light pink mark which will disappear in a few minutes or a couple of hours. Where there is old trauma or injury it may require multiple cupping treatments to remove all stagnation. You will find in follow up treatments the marks will be visibly lighter and lighter as the pathogens are systemically removed from the body.