I Tried It: Cupping Therapy

Ever since Michael Phelps rocked his hickey looking bruises during the 2016 Olympics, I’ve been curious about cupping therapy. And you know me, I’ll try [almost] any weird wellness trend once.

So… I nervously booked an appointment for Tui-Na Chi-Gong, a Chinese form of massage, followed by cupping therapy at a place on 28th Street. My back has been SO sore from teaching and flailing my body around. Plus my shoulders have always been a bit wonky. I figured why not. At the very least it will make for an interesting blog post.

Of course before my session I started googling does cupping hurt. The results just about propelled me into panic attack mode. I’m not ashamed to admit I have a LOW tolerance for pain. Like, I’m a total wimp. It is what it is, friends.

But I had told myself to MAN UP, KLEINMAN! I was going to get the goddamn cupping done so I would have something interesting to write about.

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Everything You Did [and didn’t] want to know about cupping

First things first, what exactly is cupping therapy?

Instead of turning to my good friend google to explain the in’s and out’s of cupping, I turned to my friend Katherine Rohland. Katherine is an Acupuncturist and the owner of Unity Acupuncture in Tribeca. I figured she’d explain cupping a whole lot better than me…

According to Katherine, cupping removes stagnation in the body.

In Chinese medicine stagnation is the cause of many aliments, but most notably pain. Stagnation is caused by stuck qi, blood, cold, or dampness. Cupping promotes the free flow of qi and blood in the body and removes cold and dampness.

There are a few different ways to perform cupping. The place I went put the cups on my back and then a pump sucked out all the air. Some places use a match and heat to create the “suction”.

 

What can cupping help with?

Katherine explained that cupping is most often used for pain, but is also great for:

  • constipation and digestion issues
  • lung related issues such as a cough, asthma or bronchitis
  • dealing with a cold in the acute stages

The therapy is often used in conjunction with another treatment such as a massage or acupuncture.

 

What’s with the purple spots?

Cupping brings blood to the surface, allowing circulation to continue as it normally would. The level of discoloration reflects how much stagnation is present in the area. Deep purple mark = more stagnate. The marks are from broken capillaries.

 

If a spot on let’s say my lower back looks deep purple, does that signify lower back / kidney problems?

In Chinese medicine everything is related.

Often, yes, areas of pain relates to the effected organ. For example, pain in the lower back IS related to the kidney organ in Chinese medicine. In that case, an acupuncturist would add in a few acupuncture points to nourish your kidney. But FYI, a problem with your Kidney energy in Traditional Chinese Medicine doesn’t usually mean that there is something physically wrong with your western kidney.

If a patient is presenting with a persistent cough, you will likely see darker circles near the physical lung area on the back.

Granted if you pull a hamstring running it doesn’t necessarily mean your Bladder channel is out of balance even though the bladder channel runs down the back of the leg. It could just be repetitive stress. If your entire back is sore because your work out a lot, it doesn’t mean all your organs are out of whack.

 

My First Tui-Na Chi-Gong Experience

After a recommendation from a friend, I went to Asia TuiNa in NoMad. It’s not fancy. Like, at all. Nor very private — the only thing between you and another session is a curtain. But I went to theater school so I’m not super modest. And let’s be honest, I’m also real cheap. Because grad school.

A 45 minute massage + cupping came out to $55 cash. Pro tip: They offer a cash discount. Why yes, I will make an extra trip to the ATM for this purpose.

My session started with a traditional Tui-Na Chi-Gong massage focusing on my back, arms and neck. I’ve gotten a bunch of massages at fancy spas, usually after running a race or for a special occasion. This massage was not like that. Holy hell, it HURT. My masseuse when to TOWN on every freaking knot in my back. And apparently I had many.

 

And then it was time for the cupping.

Oh boy. This particular place uses a rubber pump for cupping. It’s different than what I’ve previously experienced and heard about. One time at acupuncture my acupuncturist used cupping and created the suction with a match. He then moved the suction cup around my back. It wasn’t painful nor did it leave a mark.

With a rubber pump the air gets sucked out of the cups on my back. I don’t even know how to describe the feeling, but it felt like my back was in a suction cup. More and more cups were applied to my back, sucking up air each and every time. All I kept thinking is my back isn’t that big. I’m only 5’2” and pretty petite. How is she still finding empty space on my back to place yet another cup?

Then the panic set in. Oh my god, why did I think this was a good idea? The glasses felt heavy on my back, creating a claustrophobic sensation. And it felt like a freaking leech sucking out all my blood.

I shifted my focus to my breath, like a good yoga teacher. And I started singing showtunes in my head (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat for those curious…)

I did everything in my power to stop the panic. Eventually I calmed down. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed the feeling, but I wasn’t on the verge of screaming. Luckily the removal wasn’t as painful and some of the cups just popped off.

The Aftermath.

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Of course the second I got home I texted photos of my new leprosy spots to my mom and Jeremy. I like how instead of sending my boyfriend naked pics, I send him horrifying pictures of my very, very purple back. I also love to send him photos when I break out in hives or get a nasty sunburn. Those are the perks of dating me.

 

1 Day Post Torture

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The next morning I woke up feeling SORE. And it def wasn’t from the barre class I took the day before. I went bowling that night for my brother’s birthday party. It was ROUGH. I swear Jeremy barely put his hand on my shoulder at one point and I winced in pain.

I’m too sore to notice any changes in my body.

 

2 Days Post Torture

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I’m obsessive about trying to find any minor changes in my body? Do my shoulders feel less “crunchy” when I roll them up and back? Kind of.

The BIGGEST transformation is my jaw. I have a malformed jaw joint which is as sexy as it sounds. Because of this I have a ton of TMJ issues and sleep with a retainer so I don’t grind my teeth or clench my jaw. I will never have full use of my jaw because of this.

Since treatment my jaw hasn’t been in as much pain. In fact, after 2 days I had the most range of motion in my jaw that I’ve maybe ever experience. That’s something.

 

 

3 Days Post Torture

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Okay, my back looks pretty gruesome still. I’m a little self conscious about the spots.

I teach my yoga class in a tank like any other day. It’s a freaking yoga class, everyone knows what’s up with my back and wanted to chat about their love/hatred of cupping.

But at grad school? I’m a bit more self-conscious. Mainly because these people in my marketing classes already think I’m a weirdo that uses fitness brands for every example.

 

…And now

It’s 5 days post torture. The marks on my back have faded to a gross shade of yellow. I almost preferred the purple. There are still a few super dark spots left. Most are around where I had nasty knots in my back.

In writing this I’m struggling to sum up how I feel and if there’s any changes in my body. It sounds like a simple enough question but the truth is I don’t know. Like maybe my back feels less wonky? I can’t tell.

 

Would I Go Back?

I dunno. I gots mixed feelings on the whole experience. On the one hand, I think my back really needed the torture. And I should probs get beat up like that more often to break down them knots. And my jaw feels different. Which is a big deal when you have a jaw as messed up as mine.

BUT I’m not sure I really reaped the benefits of the whole extravaganza. After my first acupuncture treatment I was a believer. I told everyone that would listen about the life changing magic of getting poked with a needle. But cupping? I’m on the fence. I think I expected to leap off the treatment table a new woman. Or at least with a new feeling of openness in my back.

I felt something, but I’m not sure if it was all the things. Yet now that I’m writing this post, a part of me is thinking Hm, maybe I should go once a month and see how I feel. I’ll get back to ya on that.

As with anything I chit-chat with y’all about, this is my opinion and my experience. Choose to take it or leave it or even question it.

Tell Me: Have you ever tried cupping? And what’s the weirdest wellness treatment you’ve undergone? This one might take the cake for me.

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