Posted: May 30, 2014 8:00 AM
Celebrities like actress Jennifer Aniston and tennis star Andy Murray have been seen sporting the telltale marks from “cupping,” a form of acupuncture said to be a miracle cure for just about everything. I went in to try it out and now I'm reporting back on just how great this latest health fad is.

A few months ago I decided to take my kids to the local roller skating rink. While I hadn't actually been on roller skates in decades, I figured it would be just like riding a bike. It was, as long as I was helping my 2-year-old hold onto the PVC "skating assistance device" he was given to skate with. Eventually he wanted a snack though, and Daddy was happy to oblige with an off-rink break. The DJ started playing "Spring Love" by Stevie B and all I wanted to do was get out onto that rink and relive my childhood as I dance-skated my heart out. So I did. It was awesome for about 35 seconds — until I fell hard on my hiney.

That night I could barely move and I began to think I'd actually broken something in my lower back. First thing in the morning I headed to my chiropractor, who said one of my legs was a full inch shorter than the other — the same as the side of my back that was hurting. Within a week I'd had three adjustments and a deep tissue massage and was still in excruciating pain. The following week I went in for another massage and this time my therapist — who I've known for 15 years and trust completely — suggested cupping.

I had no idea what cupping was. I didn't care what cupping was. She said it could help and I was game for anything, anything that could take the pain away. After the hour-long combination cupping/massage session I felt a little better, but not much. By the time I'd completed the 25-minute ride home I felt as if the fall had never happened. By the end of the day I felt better than I had in weeks: I had more energy and I felt super-happy and, well, mentally centered. That feeling lasted for several days, and I attribute it all to cupping.

What is cupping?

Cupping is hardly a new fad. In fact, evidence of cupping use dates all the way back to China in 281 A.D. It is said to help with everything from muscle pain to depression to fibromyalgia to even decreasing the appearance of cellulite. The traditional Chinese cupping technique involves the use of cups to create "negative pressure" (suction) along the meridians of the body. The suction can either be by the use of heat or by mechanical means (such as a pump). The goal of cupping is to move stagnated blood and chi (energy), to disperse internal heat, and to break up deep muscle adhesions. The cups can be glass, plastic or silicon — although traditional methods use glass. Basically the suction pulls the muscles and ligaments up and away from the body allowing flow and circulation to be restored.

allParenting cupping method- lighting the cup

What to expect during cupping

The initial application of each cup has a suction sensation that is intense but not at all painful. As more cups are applied you continue to be aware of each, but the individual sensation almost morphs into an all-over tingling that encompasses not just the application area but the space in-between the cups as well. The cups are typically left in place for five to 15 minutes to allow energy flow to be restored. My therapist applied the cups to one side of my body while she performed massage therapy on the other, and then switched.

As the cups were in place I could feel my body relaxing, similar to the way I feel during acupuncture sessions or the way I feel during the final part of yoga, during meditation. Once the cups were removed, an immediate cooling sensation occurred on the area the cup had been covering, likely caused by the return of fresh air to the area. As my therapist massaged the area where the cups had been there was an obvious difference in the state of my muscles. Adhesions (knots) that had been painful and present prior had dissipated while the cups were in place. It was almost like magic.

How it feels (and looks) after

allParenting cupping method- afterAfter cupping I felt as I do after similar treatments such as massage or acupuncture: I could tell my body had been worked, but overall I felt relaxed. What is different for me with cupping is after I feel energized. That energized feeling tends to last a few days, along with a general feeling of mental clarity. But what is most known about cupping isn't how it makes you feel, it's how it makes you look. Cupping involves suction, and suction pulls blood toward the surface of your skin. Because of this, cupping leaves very distinctive circular marks everywhere a cup was placed. They can vary in color from deep purple to a lighter red. While the marks may look painful, they aren't. In fact, I routinely forget they are there until someone sees one and asks about it. For me the marks last between 10 and 14 days, gradually getting lighter until they disappear entirely.

Who is it good for?

Cupping can help people of all ages, from the very young to the very old. Because of the requirement to lay still for several minutes, I cannot imagine a young child tolerating it — although if you have a very patient child, they might. People with diabetes and those on blood thinners must be treated carefully, but they can still be treated. Cupping is truly an alternative therapy worth exploring, especially if you are looking for pain relief that other methods aren't helping.

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