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What Is Cupping Therapy?

Move Over, Oil Pulling: We're Talking About Cupping Now

Have you heard of cupping? Gwyneth Paltrow is a fan of the practice, and now Lena Dunham has shared her fondness for it. The Girls star posted a photo on her Instagram where she showed off the results of a cupping therapy session: large welts on her back. We were more than a little curious about the practice, so we chatted with Grace Leung, licensed acupuncturist and board-certified herbalist at Cobble Hill Acupuncture in Brooklyn, about the procedure. Allow us to dissuade your fears:

What Is It?

Cupping is an ancient form of alternative medicine that originated in China in which cups are suctioned onto the back. This can either be done with heat, where the inside of the cup is heated with fire and then quickly placed onto the skin, or with a vacuum by creating low pressure around the skin with your hands or a mechanical pump. "We do it in addition to acupuncture treatments," Leung said. "But we can do it without needles if someone is afraid of them."

How It Works

"Each case is different, so we assess each case that comes in," Leung explained. But cupping can be used to alleviate a whole host of issues. "We use it to help people with reducing swelling and pain, but it's also for people who have a cold, cough, or asthmatic condition, as well as low back, neck, and shoulder tension," she said. By creating a suction into the skin, the cups pull toxins out of the body and help promote circulation. "We're venting deep-rooted stagnation," Leung said. "It's good to release tension and stress in the muscles."


Since you are creating a suction, marks like Lena's are typical. How long should you expect them? It really depends on the condition and you as a person, Leung explained. "People with more stagnation, their marks will be darker and they will last longer. They usually clear between three and seven days," Leung said. However, if you've got a chronic case, like a cough that has lasted a month, the marks can last for over a week.

Should You Try It?

Leung stresses that cupping is an effective therapy. "It does feel very good. It's actually very relaxing — it looks worse than it feels!" she noted. If you're feeling especially tense, cupping may be a great alternative to a typical massage, since it actually draws the toxins out of your skin. Also, if you have a chronic cough that you've tried just about everything for, why not give cupping a shot? Perhaps we can all stand to take a page from Lena's book.

Source: Instagram user lenadunham

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