Brusing Happens: Deep Tissue massage vs. Cupping

I recently came across an article at skeptophilia about the massage modality known as cupping and I wanted to share some common issues with massage modalities and bruising. The article is more interested in attacking the ideology behind cupping that says that not only does it draw blood and lymph to the surface but also energy. I don’t have a problem with that kind of criticism, especially when the critic is an avowed atheist, who is honest about his bias. But cupping as a modality is not the same as the sweedish massage technique known as cupping. Sweedish massage can be gentle or firm and is characterized by long gliding strokes. Cupping as a modality is performed with hard plastic or glass cups applied to the body that create a vacuum, pulling blood and lymph to the surface of the skin. it is usually done by a massage therapist but is not a technique that involves actual hands on manipulation of the tissues unless stated otherwise. Until today, I had no idea that Gwyneth Paltrow is credited with popularizing the cupping modality when she appeared in public in 2004 with six circular bruises on her body. But not all cupping is equal. Have a look at this monstrosity and if like me, you question its benefits, just know you aren’t alone.

I don’t know about you, but that is extreme for my taste, and I am a massage therapist. When I was in massage school, training in deep tissue, the occasional bruise was not unheard of but I have never seen anything like the above picture demonstrates. My first thought is that the cups were left on the body for too long a period and that this is the result of negligence on the part of the therapist. I have had cups applied to me, and this was not the end result, although I did not receive a real treatment, just a taste of one.

But what about Deep Tissue? There is an entire school of thought among some therapists and massage aficionados that if you aren’t bruised after a deep tissue session then you didn’t get a good massage. My class mates and I were warned about this in massage school as something that occasionally happens but should not be the norm. Here is an example of what deep tissue fanatics are talking about.

Either way, this is not the kind of massage I recommend and I hope that anyone who is serious about living a healthy life would think twice before advocating this kind of treatment.

3 thoughts on “Brusing Happens: Deep Tissue massage vs. Cupping”

  1. cupping is traditionally associated with oriental medicine and when done properly is used along meridian lines on the back and neck. It is not a manual technique. bruising is normal as the suction forces blood into areas of stagnation. the bottom image is typical of what a client looks like after cupping. the bruises generally dissipate entirely in a day or two. the procedure is not painful if done properly and is effective not only in releasing muscles but also congestion (stagnation) in the lungs.


    1. I feel it’s a fine line. While it may be effective for reducing lung congestion, I would have to take a second look at the other claims made for the procedure. To my knowledge, most the individuals practicing it, are not as educated in oriental medicine as they should be to be fully versed in the science of how it produces results.


  2. A proper understanding of the Krebs cycle excludes the “toxins” idea…see Keith Eric Grants articles in Massage Today for more on this in ‘science’ terms. While I don’t doubt that this may create a movement of blood flow to those unreachable muscles, and I will bash it all day long on my personal blog! Your not advertising lymphatic flow and movement – your talking about ‘toxins’ – jump in the lake and get a life@!


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