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:
Marks – 4 Days Post Cupping
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!
I was working a Health Fair event the other day and had a conversation that went like this:
Client: “Gosh, a massage is JUST what I need today, I feel awful.”
Me: “Why do you feel awful?”
Client: “Oh, I’m FREEZING, I just can’t get warm (note that it’s still 85 degrees here in Florida and he was wearing a big ol’ sweater), and my muscles just ACHE.”
Me: “You mean, like you have a fever or the flu? Because a massage isn’t going to make you feel better, it might actually make you feel worse.”
Client: “No, I’m just cold and achy.”
By this time another therapist called them over to their chair and while I believe they heard the conversation they were fine performing the massage and the client was happy to receive it. The conversation did make me realize that this is the perfect time of year for a little massage / flu education.
- Massage helps increase circulation. This is the number one reason why if you’re feeling like crap, a massage will probably just enhance your crappiness. Your body needs to do its thing and adding a massage while your body is already fighting the ICK factor is not going to help. The only possible exception may be reflexology or acupressure.
- Selfishly, I don’t want whatever you have. If you are in those terrible beginning stages of chills and aches, chances are you are contagious. I also don’t want to pass the ICK on to my other clients. My regular clients know, if I’m sick, I will reschedule your appointment. If you’re sick, I will extend the same courtesy to you and allow you to reschedule with no cancellation fee.
- When can you come back? Typically, at the tail end of your sickness a massage will help loosen your muscles from all the extra hacking and retching motions you’ve been experiencing and make you feel much better.
- Massage therapy can improve how the immune system functions, so receiving regular massages, especially during the winter months, can keep your body humming right along and can help fight off cold, flu and other seasonal illnesses (AMTA – Massage Therapy May Boost Immune System Functioning) .
Do you have more Massage and the Flu questions for me? Ask away! I’m here to help!
As promised, here are some tips for YOU to help YOU. Keep your lymph flowing in between your Manual Lymphatic Drainage sessions with some easy self care tips:
- Exercise: Move around! You don’t have to kill yourself with burpees or run a marathon. I’m a fan of jumping jacks, but walking works (pump those arms!), and the new trends of rebounding and even just bouncing on a fitness ball can help.
- Dry Brushing: A superficial technique, dry brushing can stimulate your lymphatic system, aid with cellulite reduction, and slough off dead skin cells. It’s not very comfortable – I have to psyche myself up to do it – or perhaps I need a slightly softer brush. Here’s a little video demo selected because it is short, to the point, and I found that Margie made me smile. Remember: always dry brush towards the heart!
- Stay Hydrated: This is hands down the most important self care tip. Every system in your body works better when you drink water. So you just need to break down and do it. Here’s a list of hydration apps to help remind you (did you know once you’re feeling thirsty you’re already dehydrated?). I’m guilty of not drinking enough water too, so if you have a clever way to remember to hydrate, please share!
- Wash those fruits and veggies: This falls under the realm of paying attention to the environmental toxins around you. We are exposed to many environmental toxins that are out of our control, but be sure to always wash your fruits and veggies. If you’re really diving deep into healthier, cleaner living, please visit my Lemongrass Spa Products page. Lemongrass Spa’s mission is to provide natural products that are clean and made fresh, right here at home in America. The family skin care products range from cosmetics (I adore their lipsticks – no chemical taste and amazing pigment!) to lotions, scrubs, soaps, hair care, and essential oils.
Ready to try our Manual Lymphatic Drainage? During the month of September you may try our full body Lymphatic Drainage Massage for the special rate of $40 for a 60 minute treatment. May not be combined with any other offers; additional charge applies for mobile massage.
The lymph system is really very fascinating and I’m so excited to share what I learned in my Manual Lymphatic Drainage course (I have a fancy certificate and everything!). There’s so much information that I’m going to split it up into a series; but if you have any questions you want answered, give me a shout! It’s likely that if you have the question, someone else does too. In my series I’m going to share what the lymph system is, what it does, what YOU can do for YOU, and how I can help.
What IS the Lymphatic System?
The lymphatic system is part of your immune system helping to defend against bacteria and other intruders. It aids with fluid balance and the absorption of fats and fat-soluble nutrients. It clears away bacteria, cell debris, excess water, proteins and wastes from connective tissue and returns it to the bloodstream for removal by the kidneys. Fun fact: when you feel like you have an infection and your “glads” are swollen (think neck, armits, groin) these “glands” are actually swollen lymph nodes (Resource: What Does the Lymphatic System Do?, MacGill, Marcus Feb 23, 2018, Medical News Today.)
The Mechanics of the Lymphatic System:
The lymphatic system consists of lymph, lymph nodes, and lymph vessels and it is located parallel to the venous system. The lymphatic system is similar to the circulatory system (blood); however, your circulatory system has a mechanism to pump your blood through your body (Anyone? Anyone? Yep, it’s your heart). Since the lymphatic system doesn’t have an automatic pump it requires YOU to do the work for it. The most common way to make this happen is to exercise.
Why Manual Lymphatic Drainage?
If you can just exercise to move your lymph system, why do you need manual lymphatic drainage? Surgery and other damage can cause a build up of fluid in the lymph system. While a certain level of inflammation is important to protect damaged tissue, some of the fluid can be moved away to help the healing process. In healthy bodies, it aids in the flow of lymph and can help keep the nodes clear. By encouraging circulation of fluids and degongesting tissue you can ultimately assist your organs to function at optimum levels (yes, your kidneys and liver are the star of this show!). Manual Lymphatic Drainage also has a positive effect on the parasympathetic nervous system (your “rest and digest” nervous system) and helps keep the autonomic nervous system in balance. As I mentioned in my Facebook Live Video (see the replay here on YouTube), a sluggish lymphatic system can make you feel sluggish too. Symptoms and signs of an overly stressed lymphatic system can include: chronic fatigue, joint pain, fibromyalgia symptoms and muscle aches and pains. For your reading pleasure, there’s a very thorough article by Dr. Axe on the lymphatic system: The Lymphatic System: How to Make it Strong and Effective.
Try it Now
SPECIAL: During the month of September you may try our full body Lymphatic Drainage Massage for the special rate of $40 for a 60 minute treatment. May not be combined with any other offers; additional charge applies for mobile massage.