What is cupping?

Cupping is an ancient form of bodywork practiced in many cultures. In China, cups were once made of bamboo, and suction was created by heating the insides of the cups and pressing them to the skin. These days, most cups used are clear glass. Suction may be created by using a pump or by heating the cup with a flame, and blood and qi is moved to help reduce muscle tightness and alleviate pain. Cupping may be quick and fast or cups can be left on the body longer. They can remain in one place or be slid back and forth.

Both cupping and gua sha are used most often to address muscle tightness and pain. Areas of stiffness and tension will be directly treated with this type of bodywork. Other uses for cupping include helping break up stubborn phlegm in the chest, helping to prevent a cold, or drawing warm blood to a cold area of the body.

Like gua sha, cupping often leaves marks on the skin. Marks left by cupping may resemble bruising, but should disappear faster than a bruise and should not cause pain. Your results will be unique—you may leave your treatment with round marks that vary in color from pale red to dark purple. The color and intensity of the marks indicate to your practitioner how long you have had the condition being treated, and other information such as your relative excess or deficient status. You can speed the disappearance of these marks by making sure you drink extra water on the day of your treatment!

Cupping should be carefully considered if you plan to wear clothing such as a backless dress or bathing suit that will expose the marks soon after your treatment, simply due to their sometimes unsightly nature. Family or friends might ask you about your marks—let them know they are part of a treatment that helped relieve pain, create relaxation, and improved mobility.

What is Gua Sha?

Gua sha is a technique practiced in many traditional cultures. In Chinese, gua sha translates literally to “sand scraping”. Any type of curved object may be used, whether it is a tool designed specifically for gua sha, or a spoon, a small metal lid, a coin, or any other object that has the curve the practitioner wants. A lubricant such as lotion or oil is spread over the skin that is to be scraped to protect the surface of the skin from abrasion, and the curved implement is then scraped over the skin with some degree of pressure. The greater the pressure used, the more intense the sensations will be during the treatment.

 Like cupping, gua sha often leaves marks on the skin. Marks left by gua sha may resemble bruising, but should disappear faster than a bruise and should not cause pain. Your results will be unique—you may leave your treatment with an area of skin that varies in color from pale red to dark purple. The color and intensity of the marks indicate to your practitioner how long you have had the condition being treated, and other information such as your relative excess or deficient status. You can speed the disappearance of these marks by making sure you drink extra water on the day of your treatment!

 Gua sha is commonly used to treat muscular soreness or tension. An area of tightness or tension can be directly treated. It can also be used to prevent or treat a cold: if you get that stiff neck that means you’re about to get sick, see your acupuncturist and they may gua sha the back of your neck to release the pathogen and relieve the discomfort.

 Think carefully about receiving gua sha if you plan to wear clothing such as a backless dress or bathing suit that will expose the marks soon after your treatment, simply due to their sometimes unsightly nature. Family or friends might ask you about your marks—let them know they are part of a treatment that helped relieve pain, create relaxation, and improved mobility.