Cupping therapy pulls tension up, like the opposite of massage, but in a soothing way | Health Issue | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Cupping therapy pulls tension up, like the opposite of massage, but in a soothing way

I immediately felt looser, as if the cups had lifted all of my muscle tension away, like my body was detoxed. Placebo or not, I’m a cupping believer.

The purple marks caused by cupping therapy
The purple marks caused by cupping therapy

Alternative medicine splits people into two groups: the non-stop babblers and the skeptics. Believers swear by acupuncture, gem therapy, and meditation. Opposers deem it a well-orchestrated placebo. 

When it comes to cupping therapy, I am now firmly in the non-stop babbler corner.

Cupping therapy is an ancient Chinese treatment. Bizarre suction cups that leave huge, purple marks on the skin are the therapy’s trademark. Cupping fanatics claim it treats pain, stiff muscles, anxiety, migraines, and more. Others may be skeptical because scientific research has yet to back these claims up. For them, it might seem like a gimmick.

I started my love affair with cupping with the help of Amy Green, co-owner of Pittsburgh Acupuncture and Massageworks. I got cupped. 

As we sat down in Green’s massage room, she instantly addressed a common myth. Cupping does not leave bruises. The marks are cellular debris, dead blood cells that collect at the point of tension. She claimed it detoxifies muscles, increasing blood flow and stimulating the healing process. Marks from treatment are not painful but remain for two to seven days post-treatment.

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Cupping is used to treat many illnesses, but primarily to ease chronic and acute pain. It pairs well with other treatments, such as massage or acupuncture. Pittsburgh Acupuncture and Massageworks offers a variety of therapies, including cupping with a topical treatment of cannabidiol, a naturally occurring cannabinoid also called CBD. Each session combines static and slide cupping. Instead of applying pressure down, the cups, when stuck to a body, create a decompressing vacuum by pumping are out of the cup or trapping heat inside the cup, usually using a small flame. Cupping therapy is the opposite of a massage. The cups pull tension up, an ideal treatment for patients with hinged or pinched nerves. 

Because of the vacuum, results are visible immediately after treatment. The darker the mark, the more debris cleared away, signifying a deeper wound. Cupping therapists can see which areas of a patient are in the most pain based on the color of their skin. An entire back, fully cupped, will be left with a rainbow of marks.   

Although cupping can be done at any spot (a cupping facial leaves a youthful glow), Green targeted my back. I’m fairly active but I have a weak back. 

To help with muscle tightness and fatigue, Green lined a variety of static cups down my back. She started with the glass cups, used for fire cupping. Green took a cotton ball, lit it on fire, and quickly extinguished the flame within the cup before twisting it onto my back. 

After lining glass cups on my middle back, she placed small, plastic cups on my shoulders. These cups had a pump at the top to remove air for an externally-controlled vacuum. On my lower back, Green performed slide cupping, a method of moving the vacuum to new parts of the body.

The sensation was incredible. My body sank into the massage bed but the cups pulled up, the dual tension was hypnotically calming. It was a comfortable tension, like holding a yoga pose for two-breaths too long. 

Slide cupping was an entirely different feeling. The cup was holding my skin taut, but constantly moving, pulling tension with it. The combination of static and slide cupping was so soothing I caught myself falling asleep.  

Green let me sink into a relaxed daze for about 10 minutes (a cup usually stays on the body for 10-15 minutes), before pulling the cups off. My left shoulder held the most fatigue, indicated by a dark red circle.  

Post-treatment, I immediately felt looser, as if the cups had lifted all of my muscle tension away, like my body was detoxed. 

Placebo or not, I’m a cupping believer.

Location Details

Pittsburgh Acupuncture and Massageworks

901 Western Ave., Pittsburgh North Side

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