Lifestyle Travel

Bruising on your back: What is cupping therapy like and does it work?

I’m always game for trying alternative therapies so when we were in Malaysia and my boyfriend suggested we try cupping therapy, I was well up for it.

He’d had a dream that cupping would help alleviate his problems with back pain so we found a massage salon in Melaka near Jonker Street where we could get it done.

Cupping is thought to have originated in China and the aim of the suction cups that are placed on your skin are to help the ‘Qi’ or life force to flow through your body.

The supposed health benefits can aid a range of maladies including respiratory problems, the circulatory system, pain, muscle spasms, migraines, anxiety, fatigue, rheumatism and cellulite. There is no solid science to support it but it had remained popular since ancient times regardless.

It has celebrity fans like Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Anniston but it’s most commonly seen on athletes like Michael Phelps outside of Asia and the Middle East.

If you’re interested in alternative therapies then check out my experiences of psychosomatic Ayurvedic massage and shirodhara brain massage in South India as well as seeing hands blind massage in Asia.

Poster in cupping salon, Melaka, Malaysia
Poster in cupping salon, Melaka, Malaysia

There are two cupping methods, dry cupping and wet cupping. Dry is when the cups are placed on your skin like the picture below but wet is when the skin is nicked to draw blood out with the suction. I wouldn’t recommend this method as wounds could get infected and instruments may not be sterile.

The things to be aware of with cupping are the possibility of getting burnt with hot cups and it’s not suitable for people who are pregnant, having inflammation or scarring in the area or have preexisting blood conditions. Check with a medical professional if you have any concerns before having the treatment.

After the treatment it’s recommended that you avoid showering for 4 hours, no swimming or saunas, no excessive exercise and to rest and drink lots of water just like a normal massage. People react differently to the treatment, I felt fine but my boyfriend was very tired afterwards.

Getting a cupping treatment, Melaka, Malaysia
Getting a cupping treatment, Melaka, Malaysia

The cups are slapped onto your back with vigour in order that they cup your skin effectively. They do make you look like you have back nipples but it isn’t painful. You can feel the cups stretching your skin which is actually quite a nice feeling. I was worried that they would fall off but they were very secure!

The location of the cups follow the meridians of your body, a bit like acupuncture and the treatment is very short. It only takes about 15 minutes in total and the cups are moved around several times throughout the treatment.

The cups shouldn’t be on for a long period of time so question it if that’s the case. The therapist creates the suction in the jars using a flame to burn off the oxygen and make a vacuum.

Our treatment cost 30RM (about $8) in Melaka but I would ask around to get a decent therapist. You also get a short massage on your neck and back as back of the treatment.

Cupping marks on my back, Melaka, Malaysia
Cupping marks on my back, Melaka, Malaysia

I must admit that I was shocked when I saw the marks on my back afterwards, as they’re so dark and prominent. The good news is that although they seem dramatic at first, they can heal fairly quickly and for me they quickly began to fade.

They can stick around for two weeks before they disappear completely and they itch as they heal. I quite liked the itchiness of it as it made me feel like I was healing. The question is whether it achieves anything beyond the red circles.

The jury is split on this as I did feel that it relaxed me. I slept well that night and felt calmer for a while afterwards but my boyfriend was unimpressed. His dream did not come true as his back pain was not remotely relieved by the treatment.

I spoke to my sister-in-law who tried cupping in the UK and she felt like it worked for her. But I can see why people are cynical about it and why it is dismissed as a pseudoscience. Whilst standing in the immigration queue for Singapore , I saw various people with telltale rings poking out of their shirts so there are plenty of believers out there.

Have you tried cupping therapy? How did you find it and where did you do it? Let me know in the comments below!

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Bruising on your back: What is cupping therapy like and does it work?
Bruising on your back: What is cupping therapy like and does it work?
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