Therapeutic Cupping, Part 8- How it works

How cupping works:

An easy way to think of the big picture with cupping as a therapy is to think of it as a re-awakening of tissues.  If you have kids, the following example may help.  When you tell your kid to clean their room, they go upstairs for a while. You THINK they are doing exactly what you told them to do.  Later, you ask them if they cleaned their room..  They say, ‘Of course I did, just like you said’… So you believe them and let it go.  Sometime later you go up and see there is still a mess…  So this is pretty much how the body works.  The nervous system (brain), or ‘mom’ or ‘dad’ tells the kid (the distant tissues) to clean up.  The brain has lots to do, just like mom and dad, and cannot constantly check everything, so it  assumes all is well… Now, as cupping is concerned,  let’s go back to mom, dad, and the kid for a moment.  Say the light goes out in the room.  Mom  goes in to change the bulb and see the room is a mess, and tells  the kid to get back in there and clean up.  This is what the cup does on one level. It notifies the nervous system that attention is needed in the tissues.  The nervous system responds with a cleanup action.  This is how detoxification occurs.  Things build up in tissues just like they do in a child’s room.  If ignored, eventually dis-ease (lack of ease) occurs in the household (arguments, rolling of eyes, slamming of doors, etc.…) Cupping helps the tissues run at-ease as well as maintain homeostasis and balance in a ‘forgotten’ area.


Cupping changes the pH of tissues.  The pH means the amount or ‘potential’ of Hydrogen ions in a given solution.  Those with many Hydrogen ions bound to them are generally alkaline or ‘high’ pH.  Those with few or are giving off Hydrogen ions are considered acidic or ‘low’ pH.

The pH scale is on a 0 to 14 scale, with 14 being very alkaline and 0 being very acidic.  Distilled water is at 7 or neutral.  That basically means it does not give Hydrogen ions (acid) or receive Hydrogen ions (basic).

Our bodies have a multitude of ways to maintain a proper pH.  But, what is normal???


The ‘normal’ or most efficient pH of blood it 7.4.  To understand this, too low of a pH in blood could be from poor oxygen exchange in the cases of hypo ventilation, asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, near drowning, loss of consciousness etc.  This would require the use of oxygen and a bicarbonate to ‘buffer’ the acid.


On the other hand, hyperventilation or too much O2 can cause the blood to be more alkaline and will reduce the breathing.  A pH of blood that is too high or too low would result in coma and eventual death.

The body is designed to deal with this in many ways.  You can change the breathing pattern and change the pH easily, next is to urinate out acids and the excess Hydrogen ions, then we can sweat, defecate or even take some of the calcium from bone to buffer the acids in the plasma.   Foods also make a significant difference in pH.


Urinary pH should be around 6.5 (slightly acid) to 8.0 (slightly alkaline) but then can become more alkaline in the evening as you have eaten and are releasing electrolytes (7.5 to 8.0).  Too much acid in the body would make the pH of the urine drop below 6.5.


Salivary pH should be between about 6.5 and 7.5.  So also, a rather narrow range.  This can change with foods eaten, amount of hydration, stress, and other biome factors. (Biome is the natural bacteria and other critters living on and in us.)



Cupping: the real deal.

  1. When the cup is placed on the skin, the practitioner will pump air from the bell shaped cup and cause a vacuum. This vacuum will, because of negative pressure in the cup, cause the skin to be pulled upward, making a bulge.


  1. As the skin is pulled up, a deep suction is created in the underlying tissues, which moves fluid (interstitial fluid, intercellular fluid, Lymph, (blood) and plasma). The fluid will change its place, thereby causing a further void that will be filled with other fluids nearby.  This new imbalance causes the vessels to open and bring more water and fluid into the area and help to wash out any toxins that were stuck due to poor circulation.   Not to get too technical, but it is this  action of hydrostatic pressure that moves the fluid.  Then as the fluid has moved to a new area, changing the concentration of fluid proteins, electrolytes and other solutes, they are further moved with osmotic pressure of water, depending on where and how concentrated the ‘stuff’ is in the fluid.


  1. Basically this is what is called Sterling’s Law of Capillaries. Hydrostatic pressure, also called fluid pressure, pushes more at the arteriole areas and pushes water out of the vessel into the interstitial space (space between cells, but outside the vascular system); then the water may travel into a cell (intercellular fluid) or eventually to the lymph capillary to be taken back up to the vascular system at the subclavian veins.  Then osmotic pressure, because of plasma proteins ‘sucks’ the water at the venuoles side… (See the diagram)
  2. Cupping causes a total, yet temporary, disruption of this process. Think of it as the opposite of massage pressure.  Instead of pushing, you are pulling.  This allows fluids to flow in directions they usually do not.  The body’s natural response is to re-regulate the fluid composition and redistribute the fluids back to a more ‘normal’ area.


  1. Stimulation of new blood, lymph, plasma, and intercellular fluid or interstitial fluid flow to areas where it has been removed by the vacuum or negative pressure.
  2. Toxins are generally cellular debris, lactic acids from anaerobic burning of glucose, Carbonic acid from respiration, acidic ketone bodies, and sulfuric acids from other metabolic processes.


  1. Once the fluids have been taken out of their regular environment, the histamines, heparins and other chemicals released by the stimulation of the cupping open the surrounding tissues and allows ‘flushing’ of the fluids back into lymph and blood capillaries. Also, because of the forced imbalance of the cells, spaces between the cells and fat cells, more actions are required by the cells, tissues and surrounding areas to regain their harmony (homeostasis) in the cupped area.


When the kidneys, liver and lungs cannot process these issues and become over worked, the body will naturally put the toxins ‘in storage’ so they can get to them later.  This usually will be in the underlying fat of the skin.   The cupping action is that of a vacuum.  It pulls the tissue and therefore the fluids through the different compartments and, over time, will stimulate the body to clear it out.

Cupping is quicker than acupuncture, massage or even chiropractic at getting toxins to release and be processed.

Cupping can also help you determine the extent of an issue…

-Demonstrates the severity of the congestion (see below)

-Demonstrates the location of the most congestion and stagnation.

-Can stimulate the liver, kidney, lungs and skin to work more efficiently.

A body in motion moves fluids through pressure changes both from within and on the outside.  The gentle bellows action of the normal breathing process, movement of muscles when walking or doing exercise help fluids change places.  Other ways you can get this is with massage, stretching, and other normal activities.  Many times people are rather sedentary; they work at jobs that require sitting, then go to a vehicle that offers the same.  Since they are tired, they simply go home and sit on the couch, then go to bed.  This is far too little movement of the body and will inevitably lead to stagnation and eventual breakdown.

Take the example of bed sores, called stasis ulcers.  When people are bed ridden and cannot move, the fluids in the body begin to settle and ooze through their normal position toward the ground.  The first signs are redness, then an oily sheen on that part of the skin as the plasma and lymph are oozing through.  Soon the tissue will become irritated and not be able to transfer out carbon dioxide or get oxygen, thereby becoming acidic. It  starts to break down.  That leads to an ulcer (an open lesion of the skin). The ulcer is susceptible to dis-ease from bacteria, becomes  active in the acidic environment and does  not have  good blood flow, which impedes the natural cleaning process by the blood (do you mean red?) and white blood cells.  Once bacteria get going, they can be difficult to stop.  Most people who are bed ridden do not have a great immune system to begin with. That can begin a cascade of trouble, leading to sepsis and eventual death.

Cupping is not the only answer, of course.  It is one tool.  The first and foremost way to ensure there is good flow is to move.  Exercise, get massage, do some stretches!  Let us imagine you have had a back injury. To help your body through this injury, your  muscles tighten,  the blood flow decreases and then your blood can become still and stagnant, making it difficult to clean out.  I suggest only a few sessions to get things going, and you can get the whole process in motion and find quicker relief. (? Did not understand last sentence.)

An occasional ‘tune up’ is a good idea and I suggest once a month or so, with a follow up visit. ).The chart below will show you what to look for.   As areas go from congested through to good healthy blood flow, you will find more relief.  Someone with spots after cupping that are on the left side (healthy Blood Circulation) will have a pink-ness that will go away in a day or so.  They only need maintenance, for example, once every few weeks depending on their activity levels.


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