Cupping therapy disaster

Have you ever heard of cupping treatment? It is a form of alternative medicine and one of the oldest methods of Traditional Chinese medicine. Small glass cups are warmed and placed immediately against the skin. As the flammable substance inside the cup burns, it removes all the oxygen and creates a vacuum which causes your flesh to be sucked up into the cup. It is said to be one of the best deep-tissues therapies available and helps stimulate the flow of blood, balance and realign the flow of Qi, break up obstructions and help ‘pull out’ the toxins.

When my friend came back from her summer visit to Indonesia she told me how fantastic she feels after the two cupping treatments she had while away. She was raving about what an incredible kick of energy it gave her.

I remember seeing photos of people with the circular marks left ‘after cupping’ online somewhere so I specifically asked her how long the marks last: ‘A few days’.

I heard about cupping therapy back in Poland when I was a child. The unlucky kids had it done when they were sick (usually because of a bad cold during winter). I always dreaded it and was fortunate never to experience it as my family was more into taking western medicine (drugs) than traditional Chinese medicine. However, while talking with my girlfriend, feeling weak, tired and having some health issues, I immediately put it on my list of ‘must try’.

Fast forward a few months to November. I was with my friend Bartek in Siem Reap. We arrived in the morning and had a leisurely day walking around town, finding good spots for coffee, food and drink. We passed one of many massage places where I saw cupping being offered on their ‘menu’ and an idea was born. Why not try this instead of getting a massage? Bartek remembered having it done as a kid and was eager to get that ‘kick of energy’ my girlfriend was raving about.

We walked in to a totally random massage place (after no research whatsoever) and asked for cupping treatment for two. We were asked to wait while they sterilized the cups. After 15minutes we were taken to a room for a couples massage. A silent woman walked in with cups and started working on Bartek. I quickly realized that it was not going to be a relaxing therapy. She left for a minute to get more cups and I quickly snapped this photo:

Cupping Treatment Dissaster

She returned with another two women who started working simultaneously on me.  They were fast. Very fast. They where putting cups next to each other and it felt like there was not enough skin to stretch for all the caps. It was uncomfortable and very painful. By this stage we started competing with Bartek who breaks first and ask them to stop and remove them all. We both suffered in silence and counted the seconds to the end of our treatment. A lifetime or so later, they came back and slowly started to remove them. Oh bliss. I was relieved until the second they started putting them back on. AGAIN! I was biting my lips, shed a couple of tears and simply refused to give up before Bartek. We were left alone again for God knows how long and I silently cursed myself for stupid ideas. We could have had a relaxing massage instead! When they finally removed all the cups from our backs we paid as fast as we could and rushed outside.

Cupping Treatment Dissaster

We barely managed to walk back to our hotel and collapsed. Our backs where pulsating and radiating heat.

And what did we do AFTER the treatment? We started researching it online. No matter how long we looked we didn’t find cases with entire backs covered with marks. Photos show 6 to max 10 cups on peoples backs. How many did we have? We counted each others marks. Bartek had 124. I had 67.

Did I get an incredible kick of energy? Did it clear my body from toxins? I don’t think so. For almost a week we could barely sleep. We were exhausted. The marks were swollen and hot. Very hot to touch. From pink colour to purple, almost black at some places. We cancelled a trip to a waterfall, didn’t go anywhere near the hotel pool, didn’t even consider a massage. I bought tops with longer sleeves to cover up my arms (who puts cups on arms?!). Bartek made a few jaws drop (and me laughing) whenever he bent down which made his t-shirt go up and expose his marks. Believe me it was a sight to behold. Sight-seeing in 30 degrees Celsius with painful and hot-to-touch backs wasn’t too much fun.

My back was terribly bruised. Over the following WEEKS, the bruised circles went through all the colours from red, deep red, black, with green edges, dark purple,  yellow and finally, for the longest time, to unhealthy grey.

It’s been six weeks since our ‘experiment’. Husband assures me that there are only 3 visible marks left on my back. Which truly relieves my fear that I’ll be bruised forever.

Cupping Treatment Dissaster-7 We are done with cupping therapy but there is no doubt that this is one of the things we will be laughing about for years to come. Another ridiculous thing we did together to add to our list. A list which has been constantly growing for the past 33 years.

7 thoughts on “Cupping therapy disaster

  1. as you know and you said, its a therapy.
    it should be done by qualified chinese medicine doctors, but it seems that you are finding some “silent woman” on the street to do it for you =D
    imagine what will happen if you randomly find someone on the street to do a surgery for you, LOL

    well, yes, im a chinese medicine doctor.

      1. I don’t find cupping to be SILLY at all. I find your approach to have been as close to insane as possible. Do your research BEFORE not after such treatment. I had this done – blood cupping. Only 3 were used on an ankle that had been turned many times. I had unbelievable relief for the first time in 4 years. I like the intensity, horror and humor in your story but you leave out how FABULOUS and HEALING it can be when done right. Since you never had that done, you wrote it off. That’s just bad reporting – even if only from a blog. People that do this kind of cupping do it for “Show” as in, Americans like intensity let’s give them all horror and show. It can actually be BAD for you to do this and leaves one feeling exhausted. Because it isn’t building Chi at all. Professional Cupping can be miraculous and should actually leave one feeling uplifted and filled with energy (free flowing Chi).

  2. I hate hearing about these kind of stories with cupping therapy.
    I’m a certified cupping therapist and from the look of the placement and number of cupping marks you have, the person who performed this was not educated on how truly powerful cupping is. It sounds like this bodyworker was unethical.
    I never use cups on a first time client for more than 15 minutes, and I used 10 cups–max. I also use silicone/pump cups that can easily adjust pressure. It looks like your therapist also left the cups on too long.
    Your therapist also should have communicated to you that YOU can communicate at any time!
    If you ever feel uncomfortable, in pain, or anxious in a massage…that is not therapy! That is abuse. Massage therapy is a serious modality that should be taken as such.
    I’m sorry your experience was so terrible.

  3. I wish I have read your article before trying this therapy !!!
    i have just started my online research after treatment .
    Did the marks go away completely?

  4. This was such a fun blog post to read.
    I wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water on cupping. Like Audrey said, you were not cupped by someone that had training in any medical theory behind cupping. You were definitely overcupped. Cupping marks are not bruises. Notice that in some places there were no marks left at all. The different colors mean different things, i.e. excess heat, stagnation, mild coldness, dampness, etc. I suggest being open to it as a therapy again, only this time choose your therapist wisely. Cupping is so natural to us that we do it ourselves–or at least most people practiced self cupping as kids–when we get hurt and bring our hurt finger, arm, etc. to our mouth and suck on it. It is found in many traditional medicines not only Chinese. Lastly, cupping should not be painful. Even with fire cupping, adjusting the suction is easy to do.

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