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Massage cupping lets you get a deep massage without deep pressure. The technique uses negative pressure suction to lift the skin and muscles, rather than compressing them.
Cupping therapy is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Practitioners place a flame inside a glass, bamboo, or pottery cup to create a vacuum in the cup and then quickly put the cup's open end on your body.
The cup's vacuum suction creates a seal that lifts your skin and underlying tissue (the lifting is called negative pressure). Usually, TCM practitioners let the cups remain in one location for about ten minutes (stationary cupping); however, sometimes practitioners move the cups (running cupping) on the skin.
Massage therapists primarily use the cups to do massage strokes (after applying oil to your skin), although they may also leave the cups stationary. Techniques include making long strokes along your muscles, using the edge of the cup to scoop over a muscle, and making vigorous circles.
Some massage therapists use the fire cupping technique described above. Another, newer way to do cupping is to use a manual vacuum set. The therapist places a cup on your skin and then attaches a pump to the cup. The pump removes the air from the cup, creating a vacuum and negative pressure.
According to TCM, cupping enhances the flow of qi. From a Western viewpoint, the technique can improve blood circulation and flow of lymphatic fluid, relax tight muscles, and help break up and get rid of scar tissue and adhesions (stuck together tissue).
When the suction and heat of cupping draw the skin up into the cup, surface blood vessels expand, potentially causing redness or discoloration that resembles a bruise. The discoloration usually goes away in a few days.
The few reasons not to receive a cupping massage include if your have skin inflammation, high fever, convulsions, or cramping, or if you bleed easily. Make sure your tell your massage therapist about all of your medical conditions. Also, pregnant women shouldn't receive cupping on their abdomen or lower back.
Resource: International Cupping Therapy Association
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