Today I had the opportunity to experience cupping massage for the first time. Cupping massage was recently on people’s radar after watching the summer Olympics in which many of the swimmers displayed large, circular bruises on their shoulders. My Ahh Spa co-worker Lillian was intrigued by the cupping technique and set about learning how to incorporate it into a therapeutic massage.
Many of friends and clients asked me about cupping and although I learned about it in massage school I didn’t know much about the benefits of it. Boldly, I was willing to subject myself to a cupping massage for the good of my clients.
Cupping is performed with suction cups made of varying materials including silicone and glass. The cups are attached to the skin either by manually creating suction or with the use of a specialized vacuum to create a strong effect to the tissue. The suctioning brings blood flow to the area and ultimately to the surface of the skin layers. That is why bruise circles can result from cupping therapy, as modeled by the Olympic swimmers. Aside from increasing blood flow to a tense section of muscle tissue, cupping decompresses the area. This is one way in which it is especially unique because most massage techniques compress the tissue. Think of a cake that is light and airy versus smashed down flat. Compressing and decompressing the body’s tissue can render the same results of relaxing muscle spasms/tension, breaking down adhesions, and decreasing inflammation, but cupping achieves these quicker and with less pressure applied to the source of pain. I can see cupping being especially beneficial to those who do not enjoy deep pressure work.
In my massage Lillian incorporated the silicone cups in with regular gliding strokes on my back, legs, chest, and neck. We had a great dialogue about what I felt, what she could see, and how cupping could benefit Ahh Spa clients. I could feel a tug as she glided across my skin with the cups. When she felt an area of restriction she pressed the cup over it creating suction in which I could feel. I had a handful of cups ‘attached’ to my back at one point and I could discern the muscle tissue that was most tense based on the lifting sensation underneath the individual cups. In some cases I forgot the cups were there as the tissue released.
Here’s the really cool part. I’ve had some neck pain for three days and despite my own massaging, heating, stretching, and trigger point therapy it was persistent. We decided to try cupping the spot right behind my ear where the spastic muscle could be felt. Lillian removed the cup after 5 minutes and was impressed with not only the slight redness of the area but also how raised the tissue appeared. I was impressed with my improved ability to turn my head and how the elusive trigger point had all but disappeared!
I am not one to recommend something that I haven’t experienced success for myself. And up until today I didn’t have an opinion on cupping massage. But hours later my neck still feels loose and pliable. The red circle has disappeared and my usually spastic neck and shoulders feel light and asymptomatic. I am quite impressed with the effectiveness of the cupping therapy and can definitely see a place for it in a therapeutic massage. Try it out for yourself by calling The Ahh Spa and requesting a session with Lillian Madson 812-471-4990.