So, maybe you’ve heard of the “celebrity fad,” cupping, which has been made popular by athletes in the 2016 Summer Olympics.  Pop culture may be only recently realizing the enormous benefits of cupping, but this practice has been taking place for thousands of years.  In fact, even before famous swimmers and gymnasts used cupping, many people all over the U.S. fell in love with the valuable therapy.  Let’s take a look at why this year marks the first year that we are seeing signs of cupping on celebrities in the Olympics.

Stealing Like an Artist with Historical Therapies

Have you heard of the book by Austin Kleon called, “Steal Like an Artist?” The concept of stealing like an artist is not about plagiarism.  It’s about progress.  The most unique artwork, the most innovative technology, the newest sounds in music are all inspired by the artwork, the technology and the music that came before it.  When you borrow an idea and put your own spin on it, you grow that idea into something new – or at least a fresh version of something old.

As we grow, explore and forage for new ideas, we adapt the inspirations from history and measure them against the standards of our current generation.  We are creatures of innovation.  We ask ourselves, “How do we take this historical approach, apply it to our current situation and improve it in some way?”  In doing so, Eastern and Western healthcare and ancient and modern philosophies are beginning to collide.

Western medicine is using scientific studies to prove and gain insight into concepts that have existed in more ancient forms of medicine for thousands of years.  We improve our understanding and our language around medical mysteries as we steal like an artist.  This happens often in the medical field, and it is occurring more and more as we increase the speed of global correspondence and decrease communication barriers through cyber connection and social media.

Lately, I have noticed that many alternative medicine fields have made off with cupping like thieves in the night.  I have seen massage therapists use silicon cups, and I have heard of people who went to their chiropractor or their physical therapist and received cupping there.

But why now?  If this technique is so old, what so suddenly sparked it’s rise in popularity?

I’m going to give the credit to fascia and take a moment to delve into the unraveling mystery of a fascia-nating tissue.  (You’re welcome.)


Conversations around the intriguing structure and function of fascia have become popular as scientists and medical professionals have launched deep campaigns into getting to know it better.  Fascia surrounds every muscle group, every muscle fiber, every organ and even every cell in the body.  It wraps like a spider web around muscles and it wraps more densely at the end of a muscle to form the tendons and ligaments.  It’s one long web from the top of the body to the bottom.

Similar to a spider waiting in the corner of its web to catch its prey, if you input a signal in one area of the fascia, it creates a domino effect that can produce vibrations or effects somewhere down the line.  A physical change in the fascia of your upper back can affect the fascia surrounding your lungs, because it’s all connected in a brilliant system of inter-communication and intelligence.

When we place a cup over the upper back and create suction inside it, we relax that area of the fascia. We lubricate it by pulling fresh blood through the area, which in turn, relaxes fascia locally both superficially and at the deeper organ level.   With relaxed tissue and adequate blood supply flowing to other places in your body such as your liver and your stomach, these organs can more effectively do their jobs of processing food and detoxing chemicals.  Through an interwoven communication, your body receives tangible benefits that feel amazing.

This is why patients (and Olympians) rave about cupping. 

This is why my father-in-law calls cupping “dessert for your back.” 

This is why the highest level of athletes in the world want cupping before and after their events.

The Powerful Effect of Cupping

People have finally realized how powerful the benefits of cupping can be as a result of the cultural conversation around fascia that pops up among physical therapists, chiropractors, fitness trainers and other health and wellness nuts.  It is a wonderful technique.

According to the National Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM), cupping is most commonly used for bronchitis, asthma and congestion, arthritis, gastrointestinal disorders and certain types of pain.  In my treatment room, I love using cupping for upper, middle or lower back pain, as well as acute colds and flu, either as the bug just begins to set in or when it has caused congestion in the lungs.  The technique opens the pores and relaxes the muscles.

When a person gets a cold—that is, when they have just begun to realize it is coming on but they have not reached the point where it has really taken hold—cupping can be a great savior. Sleepless nights of coughing fits and days of missed work can be avoided.  Checking in with your acupuncturist and/or herbalist at this crucial point can take a 2 – 3 week sickness down to 2 – 3 days, and cupping is one of the techniques that can help.  Here’s how I explain it to my patients: the body has 4 main ways of getting rid of things:

  • You pee things out.
  • You poop things out.
  • You vomit things out.
  • You sweat things out.

That’s about it, unless you want to get really complicated (maybe you could ooze something out your ear? …We’ll leave it at that – no need to go into other orifices).

When a pathogen attacks the body, the closest and safest way the body can kick it out is via the pores – sweat is your best friend, but only in the very beginning of an illness.  If you try to send the bacterial or viral infection out of your body through your urine or your stools, you have to force that nasty bug all the way through your entire digestive system!  At that point, you’ve had that pathogen touch your sinuses, your throat, your esophagus and stomach, your intestines and more.  You may as well assume that you’re going to have the infestation for a while because it has infiltrated your whole system.  So, avoid the stools and urine route at all costs.  And vomiting – well, that’s just downright no fun.  It’s also not great for your stomach or esophagus.

The skin covers the entire body, so wherever you have infectious invaders, you can kick them out through the pores, as long as they have not worked their way into your deepest nooks and crannies. This is only one of the many ways that cupping can support a patient who has just caught a cold.

In many ways, through many actions, cupping produces tangible beneficial results, and thus, people keep on falling in love with it – again and again for thousands of years.

 “Cupping – Keeping it classy since about 1550 BC.”

Between the awesome results that cupping produces and the current popularity of cupping among alternative healing practitioners, it has reached the status of “celebrity fad,” and all I have to say is, “It’s about damn time.”

If you’re interested in the fascinating world of fascia, I highly recommend this article.  And if you’d like to know more about cupping, my friend Stephanie Duininck, L.Ac. made this awesome video!  I also recommend this article and I would be happy to answer any questions.

Thank you, 2016 Olympic stars, for putting cupping on the map – at least on the western side of it – for the first time!