My first cupping massage

Last Friday, as a birthday treat, I took myself  for an afternoon of pampering.  I had a luxurious facial and a massage.  While we were getting set up for the massage, the masseuse asked whether I’d be interested in trying cupping therapy.  I was a bit hesitant, but I decided to give it a go.

When I lived in Melbourne, massages were a guilty pleasure of mine.  I used to get at least one a week.  My attraction to massages sprang  from my constant struggle with pain.  I have had problems with my lower back and hips for years.  I get strong, aching pains in my hips regularly.  This gets much worse after long car trips or if I haven’t had time to exercise.  I also get terrible tension headaches, which are caused by muscle stiffness in my neck and shoulders.  The pain is immense, and will put me out of commission for the whole day.  The massages I would get in the city helped with these pains, but only for a day or so.

So you can imagine why I was so eager to give cupping a try.  I was ready to sample anything that might relieve my aches and tension.

The cupping technique uses glass cups to apply suction to certain areas of the body.  The cups are placed over the areas where pain is present, and then the air is sucked out of the cup through a valve at the top.  This pulls the skin and tissue into the cup.  It allows the massage to penetrate deeper into the tissue, as well as encouraging blood flow and lymphatic drainage.

My masseuse was really kind and thorough.  She started off our session by asking me lots of questions about my lifestyle, and the type of pain I usually get.  Then she began with a light massage.  This was followed by a firmer massage of the areas where I had the most pain.

After this, the masseuse used a ‘glider cup’ on my back and hips.  The glider cup is placed on your body and moved about.  It was rather painful, but not unbearable.  I could feel a strong suction in the areas where the cup touched, and a searing pain when it moved over the sorest spots.  Then, the regular cups were applied.

The masseuse applied four or five cups at a time.  She started by applying them to my lower back, my hips and my thighs and then moved further up my back.  Each cup was carefully positioned, and then a hand-pump was used to suck the air out.  Some of the cups stung quite badly when they first went on, but after a few moments, the pain subsided and I completely forgot about the cups.  The cups were left on for about ten minutes, and then another set were applied to a different area.

Once all the cups were removed, the masseuse gave me a deep-tissue massage.  Already, I could feel that my muscles were less tender.  Once she was finished, I got dressed and left.

It’s been five days since my massage, and I haven’t had even a hint of a tension headache.  My hips and lower back feel better than I ever remember them feeling, and I haven’t had a twinge of pain in days.  It’s been brilliant.

It hasn’t all been a bed of roses though.  The day after the massage, my muscles felt a bit stiff, similar to the way I feel the day after a particularly taxing run.  I had been warned that this might happen, because the cups and massage penetrate quite deeply into your muscle tissue.  I combated this by drinking loads of water and taking a hot shower, and the stiffness abated pretty quickly.

I’ve also got some marks and bruises on my back from the cups.  Once again, I’d been warned about this.  The marks are caused by the suction from the cups, and the blood being drawn to the surface.  It’s kind of like having a series of giant hickies all over your back.  Here is a picture of my back a couple of hours after the massage:

Five days later, I still have some faint marks on my back, but they’ve faded considerably.  Even though they look pretty awful, the marks didn’t hurt, although some of the darker ones were rather tender the next day.

I would certainly have another cupping massage.  The massage seems to have made a huge difference to my back pain and tension headaches.  When booking a massage, make sure that you go to a licensed practitioner.  Be sure to tell them if you have any particular areas that you want them to focus on or avoid.  Also, I wouldn’t recommend having a massage a few days before a big event, because you might find it awkward to explain why your back is covered in red rings.  Overall, it was a really great experience.

Have you ever had a cupping massage?  Would you have one?


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  1. A friend, who is btw a masseuse, recommended cupping for my shoulder as I am having physical therapy for post rotator cuff surgery. I am assuming she means down the road, as everything is pretty painful at this time.

    • My Mum had surgery on her rotator cuff a few years ago and she has used cupping on her shoulder to assist with aches and pains. I definitely wouldn’t recommend getting it while you’re still recovering, but down the road it can be a brilliant way to relieve muscle tension and pain.

  2. I’ve always been interested in cupping, but I’ve never even had a normal massage. Well, only the massage my physio would do on my back before i’d leave. I think in many ways, I’m scared as I’m very sensitive to touch, even having someone scratch an itch on my back has left me in tears. I think i’ll start off with some sort of soft massage though, see how I go. I enjoyed reading about this, it’s nice to have things explained a bit more about the technique!

    • If you’re sensitive to touch, the cupping massage would be very confronting to begin with. I’d recommend booking in for a relaxation massage. They use a very soft pressure and it’s really calming. You might enjoy that a bit more.

  3. Yeeeeeooooow those marks look sore! Great review, I loved reading this. I get a sore shoulder (to the point my arm stops working, argh) and would like to try massage on it – far more enjoyable than the stretches I do for it at the moment!

    Is cupping massage something that you have to repeat on a regular basis for it to wok best?

    • I’m not sure whether you’re supposed to go regularly or not. My back and hips feel great after a single session. I expect that I’ll probably be sore again in a week or so. However so far, the effects of the cupping massage have lasted a lot longer than any other massage I’ve ever had. The masseuse also gave me a whole bunch of tips to help with my problem areas, which was really helpful.

    • The funny thing is the bruises don’t really hurt at all. My back and hips feel better than they have in years. I’d happily do it again (although it’s probably more of a winter activity. I don’t think I’d want to get around in summer with a blotchy back).

  4. I suffer from chronic lower back and hip pain too, but I’ve never actually had a professional massage. Is there anyone you can recommend in the Northcote/Thornbury area? I bruise really easily so I probably wouldn’t go for cupping.

    • If you bruise easily, the cups probably wouldn’t be the best idea. I used to go to Zhong’s, which is a Chinese massage parlour at Northland. Their prices are very reasonable and they’re great. If you go there, I would recommend trying to book an appointment with a female masseuse. The men are really nice, but I find that they tend to be a bit timid with their massages. It’s as though they were worried they’d break me. The girls tend to be a bit firmer, which is good.

  5. I adore cupping massages! My partner is an practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine and cupping is part of the whole shebang. It feels so good – especially when I’m having problems with muscle pain. Ha! Am I seriously looking forward to another bout of back pain right now?

    • It must be so handy to have someone in your house that can give you massages at your beck and call! I was really surprised at how much difference the cups made. Back pain really does suck, but it’s nice to know that there’s something you can do that will actually help.

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