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What is a cupping massage?

Updated: Dec 14, 2020

Originating in China, cupping was done using animal horns on a person's back to help with healing and blood flow. Over time cupping progressed to using bamboo cups, ceramic and then, glass cups with a bit of fire to remove oxygen from inside the glass so it would draw the skin and tissues upward with negative pressure. This lifting is like a deep tissue massage in reverse. It is able to break up stuck areas, or adhesions in the fascia layer that contains connective tissues that surround our muscles. These adhesions, once removed or broken up, can help increase range of motion if the area is surrounding a joint such as a shoulder or ankle. The glass cups stay in one place for several minutes and are considered “fire cupping”. As the minutes go by, a color will appear on the skin according to traditional Chinese medicine. Each color has a different indication of what lies below. The most common color is pink or red with dots. Other possible colors are white, grey, or yellow. When redness comes to the surface, some say it is “Sha” or “stuck Chi” being released by the body and sent to the lymphatic layer to be carried away. 

Cupping can be used as another form of myofacial release or MFR for short. We will cover MFR in a future post. After “fire cupping” was established and much later when plastics were invented, another form of cupping was born. There are hard plastic cups that use a pump to create the negative pressure inside. There are also now silicone cups that are very effective without the risk of using fire. Plastic cups can be used as static (staying in place) or dynamic (being moved around). Each technique offers different benefits. 

The main benefits of cupping are, breaking up adhesions, increased range of motion in a joint, and increased circulation to the cupped areas. Cupping can also help with cellulite. According to Women’s Health Magazine it takes about 3 weeks of cupping treatments to see results. Also, according to, “'s pretty much perfect for helping reduce the look of cellulite. ‘The suction of the cups also breaks up the cellulite and changes the texture of your skin with repeated use,’ Robert Youngs notes.”


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