Cupping - What are those weird dark circular marks on people?

Cupping – What are those weird and harsh looking ‘bruises’?

Have you noticed anyone with circular ‘bruises’ on his or her body?  What you might have been looking at were the results of a cupping treatment. Michael Phelps in the Olympics a few years back made these marks a bit more mainstream, but cupping has been around for many years in many cultures, from Egypt to China. It is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine. In TCM it is often known as ‘wet cupping’. Which in North America is illegal. The wet part would be a slice in the skin to allow blood to be drawn into the cup (eeww!).  So this cupping treatment that has gained so much popularity of late is dry cupping – no blood letting here, promise.

So what’s the point? What is the purpose to having you body marked up with weird circular marks?

To start, let me tell you, it doesn’t really hurt. A bruise involves broken capillaries. A bruise is tender to touch. The marks left behind following a cupping treatment do not hurt. They are a result of blood being brought to the surface. The benefit? Well, improved circulation, increased range of motion and decreased tension. In short, a cupping treatment is used to decrease pain. It is said to be the opposite of deep tissue massage. Cupping lifts the fascia away from the muscle. Massage would be compressing tissues and spreading of the fascia. Cupping uses suction to draw blood and oxygen into the treated area. This increases the circulation.

So what is cupping used to treat?


-Plantar Fasciitis

-Digestive issues

-Stiff joints

-Tight or injured muscles

-Tight shoulders and neck

I have seen results vary with my clients. Some people swear by it, while others feel that it is a perfect combination to manual manipulation.  It seems to be most effective on old injuries and for those who repeat the same issue, meaning the problem has a lot to do with sitting behind a computer all day.


The cups are placed on the affected area and left for a period of time. This isn’t really painful, but it can feel tight and a little odd. Depending on the tissues, sometimes I’ll drag the cups across the muscle. If you’d like to try, but wouldn’t want the marks left on you then this would be what I would do the entire time. It is the stationary cups that will leave marks (but not always!). The darkest of the marks will last 1-8 days, but many don’t leave marks at all. If the cups are dragged there is rarely a mark left behind.

Cupping treatment can be booked with me as a stand-alone treatment. Or, I can incorporate it as part of your Osteopathic Treatment. It just might be the ticket to helping you live pain free!

Dana Smith