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Cupping Therapy

Last summer, the world watched as Michael Phelps won Olympic medal after Olympic medal, all while sporting dark circles on his back and shoulders. The circles were from cupping, an ancient Chinese therapy technique meant to increase healing, blood flow, and muscle repair.

I figured if it was good enough for Michael Phelps it was good enough for me, so I tried cupping therapy last weekend after Kendall recommended a place in the city. I invited our other friends to join me and Jess was the only one brave enough. The others replied with the following:

“I’d prefer not to look like I was attacked by a tentacle monster.”

“I’m not interested in that massive hickey experience.”

“What are you doing next, leeches?!”

And when I told my grandma, she just had a one-word response:


My cupping therapy began with a deep tissue massage. Now, I’ve had deep tissue massages plenty of times in my life, and loved them, but this one was the most painful massage experience I’ve ever had! Throughout the entire procedure I was swearing into my pillow, finally failing to mask my resentment when I asked the technician, “ARE YOU DONE WITH MY BACK YET?” louder than I had intended.

Then it was time for the cupping. She placed the cups one by one on my back, squeezing the air out and sucking my skin into them. According to Cupping Resource, this “helps remove obstructions in the natural energy pathways inside the body.”

Ok, sure. Really it was just extremely uncomfortable/borderline painful, and as soon as she put them on I was wondering how long they would need to stay there. Luckily it was only about five minutes, although it felt like hours.

Cupping Therapy - New York City beauty tips - Wanderlust in the City

Photograph courtesy of Cupping Resource

By the time I got home, with a very sore back, I looked like this:

Cupping Therapy - New York City beauty tips - Wanderlust in the City

Cupping Therapy - New York City beauty tips - Wanderlust in the City

Crazy, right?!

I went into the appointment feeling fine, and left with dark circles all over my back and extremely sore muscles. Granted a lot of the soreness was from the deep tissue massage rather than the cupping, but still, I felt worse off than when I started.

I left feeling like I’d gone through a war.

Cupping Therapy - New York City beauty tips - Wanderlust in the City

The painful experience would have been worth it (after all, memories fade) if the cupping therapy had significantly improved my life. But it didn’t. At all.

Instead, after the soreness faded I felt exactly the same. The only benefit was that with circles all over my back I looked like a badass at yoga class.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the marks fade in about one and a half to two weeks. So if you are planning on trying cupping therapy do it soon, because as the weather gets warmer you’ll want to show off your unmarked back!

Perhaps if you have a particular issue then cupping would be helpful. Or if you’re Michael Phelps. But for me, it didn’t do anything, and I wouldn’t recommend it.

I guess I’ll need to find another way to win that Olympic medal…


5 replies »

  1. I posted about the pain of my sports massage and had a few comments from people saying they’d had cupping therapy…. I think I’ll give it a miss! Although your bruises do look cool, in a strange kind of way!

      • As a licensed massage therapist for over 17 years; I hate reading about such bad experiences. That was truly awful. I also do Cupping, MediCupping and magnetic acupressure and I am appalled at the treatment you received.

        There were several things that struck me; so I’ll share. Firstly ‘bruises’ come from broken blood vessels. The color on your skin from the cups is from old blood and fluids that were already in your soft tissue and not ‘bruises’. It appears to me as if they were left on to long, had no treatment plan (too many and generic pattern), and none of the fluid was flushed toward your closest lymph node. Did he even flush your axillary (armpit) lymph nodes first?

        Next I’d like to address your comfort level. You should never have been in unwanted pain for any reason. There are hundreds, if not thousands of massage techniques that can be used to successfully manipulate soft tissue back into normality if a therapist cares to learn and use them. In your case, I have to wonder at why the therapist was okay with your suffering but it sounds as if he didn’t care enough to even inquire as to your pain level and make adjustments. Shame on him!!

        Deep tissue refers to ‘deeper issues’ (chronic pain patterns) in a specific area. It does not necessarily mean ‘deeper pressure’. Anyone can pile drive on you and cause pain. That is stupidity and not in any way indicative of talent. What was your purpose for asking for a ‘deep tissue’? Did he let you know that he could accomplish your goal? What was his treatment goal? Did he follow up with you to make sure you were improving (goals met)? If you can’t answer those questions; he did not even do the ethical basics of a touch contract with you and he doesn’t need to be in practice.

        Furthermore, I have 4 different types of cups and a machine that can regulate light enough pressure to be effective on my youngest 7 year old client’s abdominal scar tissue, all the way up to the polycarbonate cups (used on you) to allow my paralyzed client to really feel.

        As far as the effectiveness of cupping goes, it’s just flat out a miracle treatment; not that you were in a place to have discovered that. I send my new cupping clients this info ( ) prior to their treatment. I assume you got no such education with your cupping session? You would never even make it on my table unless I was sure about what it was you needed to accomplish, informing you of how I could meet that and making sure you were as well informed as possible as to what cupping is.

        I hope that you can, at some point, receive a REAL cupping session from a REAL massage therapist that is talented and cares about you and your needs.

        Melissa Strautman, LMT

  2. As a client of Melissa’s and one whom “cupping” works for I am appalled at thes photos. Your therapist obviously as not well trained in the proper technique. I hope you will give it another try with someone that is trained better.

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