Is the Cupping Craze for You?


Did you see the “octopus-like love bite” marks on American Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps? The purple circles he was wearing were from a procedure called cupping. Even though cupping therapy is quite the trend now, it’s an ancient alternative therapy dating back to the first medical textbook written in 1550 BC.

As a physical therapist I sometimes feel like a wizard scheming and plotting all sorts of fascinating therapies and intriguing movement philosophies to concocting an array of lotions and potions for my patients. Now I’ve added waving my magic wand with fire glass cupping to my bag of tricks. As a patient myself I have experienced cupping and I love the way my muscles feel invigorated, yet also relaxed.

You might be wondering:

Why in the world would you want to create these purple painful looking circles on your body?

For pain relief, to help accelerate healing, to enhance circulation, to increase lymph flow, to extract toxins, and even to alleviate cold and flu symptoms, plus relieve digestive issues to name a few of the myriad of benefits. And as a bonus, it’s a heavenly time-out and super soothing for your muscles.


What the heck is cupping therapy anyway?

It is an alternative therapy used in traditional Chinese medicine, but also practiced by Egyptians, North American Indians, early Greeks, and found in other Asian and European countries. Hippocrates, the man whom many consider to be the “Father of Modern Medicine” recommended cupping therapy in his guide to clinical treatment.

There are several versions of cupping: glass, bamboo, silicone and plastic, and the cups range in sizes with one to three inch diameter openings. Plastic and glass currently top the popularity chart. In fire cupping with glass cups, a flammable substance is inserted into the glass cup briefly to create low air pressure and then is placed quickly on the skin to treat a localized area. As the air inside cools, it draws the skin up into the cup. Whereas the more modern version uses plastic cups with a mechanical pump generating the vacuum effect. In both, the suction created pulls the muscles upward producing the inverse of massage where a downward pressure is applied. Cupping expands the capillaries and fluid flow in the skin. A reddish appearance and dark circles may form from the rupture of the capillaries just under the skin. Not to worry though, if they even appear, they stick around maybe one to 10 days. BTW, this is not to be confused with bruising, which is caused by blunt force trauma. Think of it as a gigantic hickey or a love bite! 

The cupping procedure may last from five to 15 minutes. The cups may rest statically or the practitioner may “run” and glide the cups along the muscles for moving cupping.


Who is it for? Is it for you?

Movie stars Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston have both accessorized with cupping marks on the red carpet. And then there is Justin Bieber displaying his temporary tattoos from the remnants of the infamous cupping therapy as part of his clean-living makeover routine.

It’s everywhere! Professional athletes may use cupping as a “secret” weapon to relieve stiffness and naturally improve health and performance. Discuss the contraindications with your practitioner first and decide for yourself if it’s “pseudoscience nonsense” and a “celebrity fad.” Read this study for more concrete information about cupping therapy here

Whether you are a star, an athlete, or sitting behind your desk, it just might be the magic ingredient your body has been craving, hickies and all!

With love (bites),

Amanda Kriebel DPT, E-RYT

Thank you for the tutorials and workshops Pacific Jade Acupuncture/@pacific_jade_acupuncture and Indigo Dragon Center/@indigodragoncenter!!


Have you tried cupping? What was your experience like? Share in the comments below. Do you have a question for our in-house physical therapist? Leave them below and Amanda might answer your question in an upcoming post.

Affectionately described by many as a yoga scientist, Amanda Kriebel is an innovative Doctor of Physical Therapy and Yoga Teacher who humbly claims to be a student of life. Contact her to schedule and appointment in person or via Skype. Learn more about her and her exclusive | Facebook | Instagram @amanda.kriebel | YouTube Channel