What is the difference between regular cupping and lymphatic cupping? How are cups used to help lymphatic flow? Will these cups leave marks? These are some of the questions I get asked regularly so I thought it was time to address them on a blog.
Most people are familiar with the tell-tale badges of honor left by cups because we've likely seen them all over social media and in sports. These marks are caused by stagnant blood/toxins being brought to the surface of the skin by the suction of the glass, plastic, or silicone cups used. The suction is usually created by squeezing the cups into place, using a manual pump or fire. In general, the longer they are left on the deeper the suction can penetrate and the better the release of chronic tightness or adhesions. Sometimes, moving or exercising while the cups are in place further facilitates the release of these tissues. When the cups are removed, the dark red marks are the "evidence" of how much was released, in addition to how you feel of course.
So, what happens to those marks? Well, your body, your lymphatic system to be exact is supposed to come in and flush the area out, move the inflammation out of the round mark. Depending on how healthy and fluid your lymph system is the marks should dissipate in a few days. So, what happens if your lymph system is already sluggish, stagnant, or compromised? The marks stay for longer sometimes a week or two and the pain and soreness in those areas remain as well because the color and inflammatory reaction correlate.
At this point, you might be wondering what the benefits of cupping are to the lymph system. You are not alone in wondering this. In fact, I used to hate cupping done on me unless the cups were always moving, whenever an over-excited therapist wanted to convince me to let them leave the cups on for a few minutes, I would scream in protest. A few times, my screams were ignored and I was left with eggplant-colored welts which were swollen and painfully itchy for many days to come. This is why I hated cupping until I learned how to do lymphatic drainage on myself. Once I learned how to reduce inflammation with lymphatic drainage, I could get rid of the painful marks myself over the course of several hours contorting myself to work on those areas.
It wasn't until a few years ago when I was dealing with some health issues that my acupuncturist recommended I start cupping myself. I had developed cysts under my left arm, around my left breast, and also on my left hand. In an effort to help my body flow better and release these cysts, I began working with and learning more about all the different styles of cupping. That is how I began learning and working with vacuum cups. With vacuum cups or medi-cupping as they are called the machine does all the pumping, controlling the strength and duration of the cups. They can pump every few seconds or be left on and removed by manually breaking the suction.
When I combined my knowledge of lymphatic drainage therapy and mapping out the lymphatic flow with vacuum cupping I realized that the cups could be used to gently decongest areas of stagnant flow and gently move that fluid where it needed to exit. This would decrease inflammation and restrictions without leaving any dark marks filled with stagnant inflammatory fluid for the body to drain. In essence, it was assisting the body in getting rid of this inflammation quicker. This is especially important for someone with an already compromised lymph system or someone with an inflammatory or auto-immune condition.
This is how cupping can help lymphatic function. I would never do this on someone without first working on them with my hands and mapping out where there are restrictions, re-routing, and possible damaged lymph or blood vessels. The cups are only used to "unclog" exit points and then gently guide the stagnant fluid out, not leave it on the surface for the body to flush out when it can.