Although the therapy known as cupping (medically known as myofascial decompression) may seem strange or new to many, it has been around for over 3,000 years. In fact, records have been found of its use dating back to 1,550 B.C. in Egypt.  In ancient Egyptian, Chinese and Middle Eastern cultures cupping was common-place. In ancient Greece, around 400 B.C., Hippocrates used cupping for internal disease and structural problems. In China, the earliest recorded use of cupping is from the famous Taoist ancient art of cuppingalchemist and herbalist Ge Hong (281–341 A.D.). The practice of cupping was highly recommended by the Prophet Muhammad around 650 A.D. and Muslim scientists carried on further developments of the method over centuries. The practice spread into medicine throughout Asian and European civilizations. Cupping was mentioned in the 12th century in Rabbi Moses Maimonides’ writing on health and was used within the Eastern European Jewish community. In today’s world, cupping therapy is widely used. While it continues to be administered in Asian cultures, countries as diverse as Australia, Greece, and Lithuania have also embraced cupping as an important therapy. Cupping has become very common in Mexico, where it is called ventosa, meaning suction cup. In many Asian countries, where cupping is a long-standing therapy, it has been applied within the home by family members. These are people who, after centuries of familiarity within the culture, have acquired expertise in applying the cups. The adage “We are professionals – Please don’t try this at home” certainly applies in the U.S., where cupping has not been passed down through generations. Here cupping should only be administered by accredited health practitioners.


In the 21st Century, cupping has been brought to greater public awareness in the United States by the many celebrities who are open to holistic healing and have become advocates – among them Jennifer Aniston, Victoria Beckham, Jessica Simpson, David Arquette and Gwyneth Paltrow. Oprah Winfrey became intrigued and featured a segment about cupping on her show. Dr. Mehmet Oz is a proponent and recipient of cupping. Cupping has become almost trendy because of its use by several athletes in the 2016 summer Olympics, including record-breaking swimmer Michael Phelps and U.S. gymnast Alex Naddour. Athletes have discovered cupping as an alternative to medication to alleviate their pain from overexertion. Because of stringent doping regulations, many athletes are receptive to drug-free pain relief methods and have found that cupping can provide that relief.  Myofascial decompression (cupping) relieves pain and sore muscles by promoting blood flow and stimulating the release of toxins. It is also used to help with inflammation, deep-tissue massage, and relaxation. A 2012 report by Australian and Chinese researchers in PLoS One concluded that cupping may be effective, when used with acupuncture, for Herpes zoster, acne, and facial paralysis, as well as pain. A 2015 report published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine noted similar findings.


So what can you expect when visiting your acupuncturist, who may recommend myofascial decompression –cupping? First, realize cupping warming the air inside each cupthat it is relaxing and comfortable. The “cups” being used will probably be glass, although they can also be bamboo, earthenware, silicone or plastic. (These stand in stark contrast to the animal horns that were used in ancient times.) The practitioner will warm the air inside each cup using a heat source. The cups are placed open-side-down on strategic areas of your skin. It doesn’t hurt, and, as mentioned, can actually be relaxing. As the air inside the cup cools, a vacuum is created. This pulls the skin slightly up inside the cup creating a localized stretch on the connective tissue (fascia) under the skin. The improved blood circulation helps the body eliminate waste that has built up in the surrounding tissue and brings fresh, nourishing blood to the area in need. The cups are usually left in place for several minutes. When the cups are removed a “cupping mark” will usually remain. This slight discoloration will fade and disappear within a few days. Cupping marks were worn proudly by Michael Phelps as he swam for, and won, Olympic Gold in 2016.


Medically referred to as myofascial decompression, cupping affects the fascia – the connective tissue in the body that covers the muscles. Cupping releases pathogens, toxins, blockages and impurities from the tissue. These waste materials are brought to the skin surface by the suction process and may produce circular “marks.” Usually in a few days some of the toxins escape directly from the skin into the atmosphere; others are dispersed through the blood stream – and the marks disappear.


At Russell Family Acupuncture, in addition to traditional acupuncture, we use various other therapies that have proven successful. I select myofascial decompression (cupping) primarily for orthopedic conditions for people who are suffering from pain, tight muscles, and tight connective tissue (bound up fascia). A common secondary use is for conditions like asthma, coughing, and the common cold. One of the problems with tight, painful tissue is that the blood circulation is blocked. Blocked circulation means the muscle is sitting in its own waste products (toxins). The suction of the cups helps free the circulation in the painful tissue. Once this happens the pain subsides. This process releases the toxins and brings in fresh blood for healing.

how cupping is usedAs mentioned, cups can be made of many different materials. Sometimes I use glass and sometimes plastic cups – for different reasons. For regular, stationary, static cupping, in which I leave the cups in place for 5 to 10 minutes without moving them, I use plastic or glass cups. Cups are usually positioned along the upper, middle, and lower back, and hips, depending on the symptoms.

Another method of myofascial decompression is running or sliding cups. When I employ this method I use cups made of glass because they slide more easily. I apply oil to the region of the back to be decompressed. Then, using only one or two glass cups, I slide the cups slowly and continually up and down the area. While also having the same effect as static cupping, this is especially helpful when the spinal muscles are involved as I am able to continue the sliding of the cup along each side of the spine. As the suction in the cups pulls at the tissue, it stretches out the underlying tissue, as well as the tissue between the cups. The cups act like many different hands, almost like a massage – restoring healing circulation to that tissue.

We are pleased to serve the acupuncture and related needs of those living in Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa, and other cities and areas in Sonoma County.