Cupping 101: What are those spots on your back?

How cupping can ease your muscle tension and eliminate your pain

Cupping is a very effective and relaxing alternative treatment to pain and muscle spasms.

What you need to know about cupping

Do you have tight muscles that nothing seems to help the pain or spasms go away? You may need to check out cupping. Cupping is one of the tools used in Chinese medicine, along with acupuncture, to help the body heal and reduce symptoms.

What is cupping exactly?

You may have heard about cupping in the news or have experienced it in acupuncture treatments. The art of cupping involves using a glass or plastic cups to provide vacuum suction when applied to the skin.  Using cups, unlike massage, uses this negative pressure to release rigid tissues, drain excess fluids, loosen adhesions, and bring blood flow to skin and muscles. Cupping also releases lactic acid and stagnation that’s deep in the muscle layer. It works to increase circulation and decrease inflammation deep in the tissues. 

Chinese Medicine theory behind cupping:

Cupping is effective when applied locally to promote circulation of qi (internal energy) and blood.  When qi and blood become “stuck”, pain usually presents as the symptom.  The cups can be used to relieve this “stuckness” in areas that have pain, like with tight muscles, injury sites, pain around surgical scars, or areas of overused muscles. The warmth and suction of the cups help to relax the muscles as blood is easier perfused through the tissues and fascia.

 Acupuncture treatments and cupping

The Benefits:

  • Releases lactic acid in muscles
  • Improves circulation, oxygenation, and detoxification of blood
  • Promotes relaxation of tight muscles
  • Soothes muscle spasms

To learn about how cupping can help with neck pain and headaches, read one of our previous posts, here!

What results should you expect with cupping?

Most patients report immediate relief of muscle pain and treatments are recommended once a week for 4 weeks, depending on the particular condition being treated. Due to the suction nature of the cupping, the cups will leave colored pain-less spots (circles) on the area being treated. These spots appear as toxins are brought to the surface during cupping, the degree of discoloration is a reflection of the stagnation “stuckness” of the area being treated.  The cup spots are seen even in healthy people, Olympic Athletes also get cupping to help with tight muscles. Michael Phelps made cupping “famous” in the previous Olympics! The cup marks usually fade within a day or two but may last longer depending on how well the body can circulate blood and properly detoxify the body.

Cupping is a very effective and relaxing alternative treatment for pain and muscle spasms.  Most patients report immediate relief of muscle tightness.

Dr. Ellie Heintze, ND, LAc is Naturopathic Doctor and Acupuncturist specializing in pain and stress management and digestive health. She sees patients in her private practice in downtown Bothell, WA. For more information, please visit, or call (425) 686-4498 to make an appointment.


Call or Schedule Now! (425) 686-4498

Call or Schedule Now!

(425) 686-4498

Dr. Ellie Heintze, ND, LAc

  • Master’s Degree in Acupuncture
    Bastyr University
  • Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine
    Bastyr University
  • Master’s Degree in Chemistry
    Northern Arizona University
Dr. Heintze Acupuncturist and Naturopathic Doctor

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