Cupping: So what's all the hype?

One of the oldest forms of medicine is the ''New Big Thing' in wellness.

I find it funny how this image of swimmer Michael Phelps is one of the most talked about photos from the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. The number of news articles written about cupping since he was spotted with cupping marks is huge. Everyone is talking about this 'cupping thing'. My physiotherapy clients keep asking me 'what's this cupping thing that athletes are using at the Olympics?' We are all so influenced by other people, whether its wanting to look like them or wanting to copy the products they use. All I can say is that I'm almost 100% sure Michael Phelps does not receive any money for endorsing cupping. Because there is no money in cupping, or any other holistic health therapy, not the kind of money anyway that would be able to pay sponsorship, but enough to make a living out of if your good at it. None of us would even know he used cupping if it weren't for the fact that if leaves marks on the skin for a few days, though I do know he has posted on social media about it in the past. Heres a guy who makes millions (his approx. net worth is 44 million) promoting brands such as Under Armour, Speedo, Head and Shoulders, Kellog, Omega watcher etc, has probably some of the best medical experts and sports scientists on his team, but yet he chooses to use a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine to aid his recovery after training or competitions. So there has to be something in it right?

So, before I go any further I must tell you that yes, I am trained in cupping, well 'dry' cupping to be exact as there also 'wet' cupping which I do not practice. It's not the most common of techniques that I use, but it can be very beneficial for certain problems/conditions. Its my preferred choice of treatment when I have my own issues with tight upper trapezius muscles and rhomboids. It always fixes the issues a lot quicker than a deep tissue massage or trigger point release. 

I've had a read of some of the recent articles written about cupping since it was brought to the attention of the world via the Olympics. As you would expect, some are good, some are very bad, and some are written by very uneducated people who have no idea about the human body and healthcare. It's been portrayed in the past as a celebrity 'fad', with famous people just as Gwyneth Paltrow, Victoria Beckham, Jennifer Aniston and even Justin Bieber said to be fans of the holistic medicine treatment. 

Types of cupping

There are two basic types of cupping: 'Wet cupping' and 'Dry cupping'. I only practice the dry which involves the use of oil or lotion on the skin and applying the suction cups to the affected area of the body you are wanting to treat. They can then be left in place or moved in a similar way to a massage. Wet cupping involves the cutting of the skin first, so that when the cups are applied it draws some blood out of the body and into the cup,this blood is said to be 'dirty or bad' blood and is believed to help remove toxins or areas of blood stagnation. 

So how does cupping work?

Well there are various theories, I mainly use it as an alternative to a deep tissue massage or trigger point release. Not everybody is comfortable having hands on massage treatments (yeah, crazy right). It's great for some of those difficult areas such as upper traps, rhomboids and gastroc, to relax muscle spasm and break down 'knots'. I tend to use moving cupping rather than static cupping, which is more like a massage and leaves less of the bruising marks, rather giving a general redness to the treated area. Static cupping is used more for the theory that it reduces toxins, lactic acid build up and trapped blood in areas where circulation has been compromised or damaged maybe due to scar tissue formation after injury. It also stimulates blood supply to the area which improves tissue healing. 

Different types of cups

Bamboo Cups

The original type of cup, some practitioners still use this type. Use burning cotton and alcohol to produce a vacuum in the cup.

Glass / Fire Cups

More traditional than the plastic type, a cotton ball soaked in alcohol is held in a pair of forceps inside the cup to remove the oxygen which creates the suction effect when applied to the skin. 

Silicone Cups

The newest form, best for at home use, squeeze the cup and apply to skin then release for suction to occur

Plastic Suction Cups

Come in various sizes, use of a suction pump attached to the top of the cup to provide suction of the skin and underlying tissue.


So, if you feel like relaxing some muscle tension or if you engage in sporting activities and want to aid your muscle recovery why not give cupping a try? Email me at if you want to schedule a session with myself.

Enjoy your weekend!