I Tried Cupping - & Maybe You Should, Too

Friday, September 6, 2019

I've wanted to try cupping ever since I first saw those weird, circular marks on Michael Phelps's back during the Olympics in 2016. I've tried massage, obviously, & I saw an acupuncturist with some regularity when I lived in New Hampshire, but nothing seems to give me satisfactory or lasting relief for my ongoing back pain.

A few months ago, I got a massage at Studio 888, a relatively new wellness studio in my neighborhood owned by Dawn St. Leone, a licensed massage therapist. It was a great experience - soothing, relaxing, & professional - but it still didn't provide me the depth of relief I hope for, by no fault of Dawn's. I just have a tricky body, I think. Bummer.

During that session, though, Dawn & I talked about cupping therapy, a form of alternative medicine long used in China &, more recently, in North America. Though there's no solid medical science on the benefits of cupping, lots of people swear by it.

...& now I might be one of them.

I'm not going to go all the way into the science (or alleged science) of cupping, as I am neither a scientist nor a naturopath nor an expert in ancient Chinese health remedies. I did, however, talk about it a lot with Dawn & consult my doctor, a.k.a. Google, before jumping in, so a little background...

The ancient version of cupping is called "fire cupping" & involves - you guessed it - the used of a lit flame in order to produce suction against the skin. Modern forms of cupping, though, simply use a tiny vacuum system in order to achieve the same result.

I know, I know, the cups looks super weird; it's sort of unsettling to see my skin puffed & bubbled up in there like that, right? 

What's that, you say? You'd like to take a closer look? Oh, sure, here you go:

The suction lifts your fascia from your muscles - essentially the inverse of a massage, which pushes your muscles back down beneath your fascia - in order to better your body's blood flow & ultimately reduce pain. Dawn told me the areas that turned the darkest were the areas where the cupping was helping most - anywhere I was especially tight.

It doesn't hurt, though it does feel a bit uncomfortable at times. After all, your skin is suckered up in tiny vacuums! It mostly just feels tight - & the release when each of the little vacuums is removed feels ohhh-so-great. Dawn treated only my back, moving the cups around a few times through my session; you can also have cupping done on your limbs, though I preferred to stick to my primary "problem area."

Yes, the cupping leaves big, circular marks, but no, they're not really bruises. They're more like hickies, areas where the blood has come up to the surface - but they don't hurt or feel sore, & they go away  quickly. Even my purplest spots were fully faded within a week.

(All I see in that photo  is my crooked spine - ack! - but I wanted to show you the weird marks.)

So what did I think of cupping?

I loved it.

I left the experience feeling like I'd just had a very deep, very comprehensive back massage - like I was lighter & cleared out, somehow. A painful twinge on the lower right-hand side of my back - one that had been bothering me for months - was gone; it's bothered me a little bit here & there ever since, but not nearly at the same level as before.

In the end, I bought a package of four cupping treatments, which means I'm soon headed back for more - though if I'm going to be walking around with alien-like crop circles all over my skin, I'm glad rank top season is coming to an end!

Have you ever tried cupping or other natural pain relief remedies? What did you think?

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