Cupping is one of those modalities that has a lot of mystery surrounding it. For a long time I didn’t receive, nor did I use cupping in my practice because I didn’t understand it. After venturing into the unknown and receiving cupping for the first time, I was hooked. I completed a cupping training course over a year ago and have incorporated it into my regular practice. For many of my clients it’s the first time they have experienced it and majority request cupping in each of their sessions. In this post we are going to discuss the biggest mystery of all: Cupping Marks.
It’s Not a Bruise
As ugly as they can be, cupping marks are not bruises. Bruises are caused by blunt injury or trauma. They are the blood from broken capillaries trapped under the skin.
Cupping marks are stagnant blood, cellular debris, or pathogens that are brought to the surface for the lymphatic system to clear away. The stagnant blood, cellular debris, or pathogens are there as a result of past or present injury or illness.
Bruises can hurt to the touch. Cupping marks do not.
Not all cupping treatments leave marks and the marks actually indicate different things. They give some insight to what’s happening inside your body.
Normally there will be some flushing or light discoloration immediately after I remove the cups. I always incorporate manual lymphatic drainage with my cupping and that helps dissipate the metabolic waste. The lymphatic system is what processes and carries these waste products out of your body. There may be light cupping marks that last a day or two. This describes the first picture noted above “Healthy Blood Circulation.”
Moderate and severe stagnation will typically leave marks that last a little longer. They indicate that something is happening (or has happened) in the tissue, leaving behind the stagnant blood, cellular waste, and / or pathogens. You are most likely feeling discomfort in this area, which is probably why you sought treatment to begin with! With repeated treatment (yes, it’s a process), the severe stagnation would eventually lessen and the marks would become lighter or eventually not reoccur in those areas.
Since the moderate and severe stagnation marks are the most curious and can look down right frightening, I’m going to go a little more in depth by describing the cupping session I received this week. I was experiencing annoying aching in my left shoulder that was resulting in restricted range of motion in my neck. I massaged myself quite a bit, and cupped myself (nope, it’s NOT easy to cup your own back). Since the aching persisted and I couldn’t properly reach the areas I needed to, I booked myself a massage treatment. The photos below were taken just a few hours after my treatment.
The entire area surrounding my scapula was cupped and these are the resulting marks. You can see some areas are very dark (severe), some are lighter (moderate), and some have no markings at all (healthy).
These three marks are pretty ugly (okay, super duper ugly). Purple. They are also the attachment points for the muscles that were causing my issues. Coincidence? Nope.
These marks were also left right after treatment, but you can see they were very light, indicated mild stagnation, and by Wednesday morning were just about gone.
These old, yellowish marks were from Friday night when I cupped myself. There was some moderate stagnation in this area, and these are how the marks faded by Monday afternoon.
The End Result
The most important thing to me is that my pain went away. I regained my range of motion with the combination of massage and cupping. This practitioner did not use lymphatic drainage post cupping, so the marks may or may not have lessened in severity if that had been incorporated. Also, the marks did NOT hurt. By Friday morning (four days later) this is what my marks looked like:
The cups that were used in my treatment were glass and a pump was used to create a very intense suction. They were also not left on long at all – I would guess 2-3 minutes max. That demonstrates how much stagnation I had in that tissue. The cups I use in my practice are a soft silicone and no pump is used. They are not quite as intense and they allow me to maneuver them around more than the glass or plastic cups. I find them to be excellent cups for people new to the cupping experience.
I’m working on more cupping posts – there’s so much interesting information out there! So please let me know what questions you have and I’ll be sure to include them in our next educational blog!