Cupping therapy – you may have heard about it recently, as it has been increasing in popularity as a form of massage therapy.

Cupping involves placing glass, plastic, or bamboo jars on the skin and creating a vacuum by suctioning out the air. The suction uses pressure to pull the skin, tissues, and muscles upward, and is therefore thought of as the inverse of massage (which involves applying pressure to the muscles). Cupping is a technique used to increase circulation, help relieve pain, and pull out toxins that have built up in your body’s tissues. The tight sensation formed by the cup is often relaxing; depending on your comfort level and problem area, the cups may be moved around or left in one spot. Each treatment is unique; the most common area to be cupped in the back.

There are several methods of cupping — the two most common here in the U.S. are “fixed cupping” and “moving cupping.”

Fixed Cupping:

The cups are placed on a specific area of your body and then left in place without being moved. They can remain for a short or long period of time, depending on the problem.

Moving Cupping:

This technique requires massage oil or cream to be applied on your skin in selected places so the cups can slide easily around an area of your body, most commonly the back.

Cupping may be worth a try if you are suffering from stress, pain, stiffness, poor circulation, allergies, fatigue, flu, colds, back pain, anxiety, muscle aches, red itchy skin conditions (cups should not be applied directly to the affected area), or even fever. It is best to start with a gentle, shorter session at first to see how your body reacts to the cupping technique.

A word of caution: cupping should not be used on patients who bleed easily, cannot stop bleeding, have skin ulcers, or edema. Pregnant women should be cupped with extreme caution and never on their abdomen or lower back.