Can Cupping Help Your Lower Back Pain?

After my last cupping session, my acupuncturist kindly reminded me not to wear a backless shirt to my girls' night out. So what did I do? Absentmindedly wore a sheer top instead.

With my perfectly circular bruises on display, I raised plenty of eyebrows and questions amongst my friends — their main inquiry being: does cupping really work?

I love singing the praises of anything that subdues my flaring lower back pain, so my fashion faux-pas presented me with a teaching opportunity — one I'll happily recap for you.

In my humble opinion, cupping does holistically relieve muscle pain, especially if you're consistently receiving treatments. I experienced zero pain during the three days following my first session — and when the shooting sensation returned, it wasn't as strong.

The Chinese medicine uses the suction of muscles and connective tissue to heal. Dr. Kelsey Tangel, a DACM LAc-certified acupuncturist and herbalist associate with The Yinova Center in New York City, put it best when she said, "By gently pulling the muscles and fascia upwards, it draws toxins to the surface of the skin where the immune system is better able to eliminate them."

According to Dr. Tangel, cupping is most commonly known for alleviating muscle pain — hence, my visit to the acupuncturist — thanks to the increase of blood flow and reduction of inflammation. Cupping is also used to treat upper respiratory disorders that have excess of mucus, emotional distress, migraines, arthritis, cholesterol, and skin diseases.

There are two types of cupping: fire and suction. Dr. Tangel explained that fire cupping uses a flame to create a vacuum, while suction cupping is designed with a pump. Cups can either be placed on dry skin and remain stationary or positioned over water-soluble oil, so the practitioner can slide the cup to different areas.

My practitioner insisted I opt for suction cupping because I was also receiving acupuncture and moxibustion within the same session. Due to the heating element of fire cupping, it is a little more intense, and when mixed with the other treatments, it can completely drain your energy.

Cupping can cause bruises — like a holistic hickey, if you will — but, these markings are apparently extremely telling of your health. They can range in color from light pink to dark purple depending on the degree of stasis (a blockage or slowdown in blood flow or other body fluids) in your body, Tangel notes. As white blood cells rush to "heal" these marks, your body sends anti-inflammatory markers to the painful muscles. Plus, the amount of time you have your bruise further identifies how much blood circulation is in that area, and if the blood has enough nutrients. The longer it takes for your bruises the heal, the less circulation and nutrients that area has.

The main point I stressed to my friends is that cupping relieves pain while providing a deeper understanding of the body. The bruises may have thrown a wrench in my weekend outfit plans, but they healed my body while allowing it to effectively communicate its needs — which is pretty amazing if you ask me.

Click here for more health and wellness stories, tips, and news.