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Chinese Cupping - My Own Experience

My own experience with cupping commenced 40+ years ago when a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctor put me back together several times after injury. Months of ineffective conventional treatment did not impress and I was directed to a TCM doctor.  In the hands of Prof Lun Wong, pain removed in one treatment and given a clean bill of health after two more sessions. Treatment for the back injury included Cupping, Massage, Acupuncture, Spinal Manipulation, topical Herbal Patch and Herbal Powders to ingest.

Many years later I am in the early stages of practising Remedial Massage Therapy. My table is too high. My shoulder is getting progressively stiffer and begins to ache. Ignoring it until, on course, my training partner remarks how bad the shoulder is...yeah, I know.

She tries to treat unresponsive block of wood. The course presenter and guru tries his unresponsive block of wood. The chiropractor on course tries his unresponsive block of wood.

That night I ponder. It hurts to press on the Acromion at the top of the shoulder. I've never seen or heard of this spot being cupped but alright, I'll put a cup on it. Took some doing. It can be hard applying a cup to a bony shoulder. I left the cup on until the pain was took 30min. It was as black as the ace of spades and the shoulder was now completely loose!!!

Rectifying the cause by lowering my table a couple notches and I did not have to repeat the treatment. The shoulder is good again.

I now use cupping extensively for Shoulder, Back and Lower Back conditions as one component of a complex massage treatment.

Chinese cupping, remedial massage, massage, Myotherapy, Deep Tissue Massage, Sports Massage, South Melbourne
Chinese cupping, sports massage, deep tissue massage, Myotherapy, South Melbourne

Chinese Cupping - What is it?

There is no suitable or accurate or comprehensive scientific explanation for the effects of cupping as it is all about the energy or Chi. There is no scientific unit for Chi. Science students are not trained to cultivate, sense and control Chi. It is not in their lexicon and they are quite literally blind to it and its effects.

Cupping is more than merely releasing tightness. In Chinese medical philosophy, cupping is about removing stagnation. Tightnesss in the soft tissue blocks the movement of Chi. It is the Chi that leads the blood. I am referring to the movement of blood through the tissue, not the arteries and veins. Tightness blocking Chi flow causes stagnation of the blood in the soft tissue of the body leading to pain and dysfunction. There is a toxic aspect to this too.

Releasing the tight sinews by constant steady pressure of the cup's suction enables blocked energy to flow again. Drawing stagnant Chi out of the body into the cup and leads the blood to the surface. Circulation is restored. Fresh blood and energy takes its place.

When removing the cup, do not point it at anyone otherwise they get a small dose of bad Ju Ju. The bad blood coming to the surface leaves bruise like marks even though no contusion or damage has been done to the flesh. Over the next few weeks, the lymphatic system will clear this bad blood away. In traditional practices removal of the blood is encouraged by pricking the surface of the skin with a star hammer or nicking it with a razor. This is messy and not acceptable to Westerners and I do not want their blood on my towels. However, from time to time, there is so much bad blood it oozes through the pores into the cup. It is not fresh blood like a cut finger or bloody nose. It is thick and mucousy. It has been there a long time. It has been causing much discomfort.

I repeat, it is all about the energy. Until the practitioner develops a real appreciation for Chi, it remains a poorly understood hypothetical. You will have to trust us on this one. If the Chi was not flowing, you would be dead. It is a fundamental of TCM practice which is so extraordinarily successful.

Chinese Cupping - Notes

Pictured above typical shoulder cupping with a bit of lower back (QL's) and Glutes thrown in.


This client is a top 20 Hell Ride participant which is weekly Melbourne Saturday morning cycling ride attended by Pro-Peleton riders when they are in town to give you an idea of the standard...massaged weekly, cupping applied approximately twice annually. His Best Mordi to Port Melb average is 47.6kph over a distance of 28km with traffic lights, round trip 44.3kph, and known to chase down and overtake The Hellride. Massaged fortnightly and previous cupping treatment administered 6mths ago.


The right Lev Scap insertion is a doozy...the darker the marking the more it is needed. He face planted downhill moutain biking on Whistler last year. Did bad things to this shoulder.


Frequently AC joint cupping exhibits the most stagnation and results in the darkest possible marking. Warning do not cup this position if ligamental damage or recent surgery. I might normally also include a cup on C7 and consider deltoids and their insertion at the deltoid tuberosity on the humerus but ran out of cups. These days I literally have crates of cups at my disposal.


Another pair of positions are the lats beneath the inferior angle of the TCM doctor advises this is Liver meridian and dark cupping marks are indicative of toxicity. These frequently are close to black on many clients.


Naturally too, rotator cuff points and S10 above the axilla are high stress areas where considerable stagnation occurs due to tightness. In problem cases I'd be fitting two small cups on Infra and two on Teres.


A more complete lower back treatment would include iliac spine lateral to QL's through to TFL, glute medius, sacrum plus several cups along the mid-thoracic spinal erectors.

Chinese Cup Treatment Reactions

Chinese Cupping Treatment Reactions and Commentary
pictured above clockwise from top left:

1. Mottled: blood stasis associated with Qi deficiency (paleness).
2. Conical elevation with white peak: cold damp/phlegm (depending if soft or hard)
3. Blood stagnation with elevated black clots and swelling (indicating severe pain)
4. Swollen with mild stagnation (blockage of fluids and heat accumulation)
5. Small red dotting indicates the release of sha (heat toxins).
6. Coldness with an epicentre of strong deficiency
7. Dark blockage of painful blood stagnation (possibly caused by wind blockage) with accompanying sha
8. Long term trauma throughout the shoulder (with long term immobility and pain).

Copied from Bruce Bentley's "Health Traditions"
Photos by Bruce

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