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Is Cupping & Gua Sha Right For You?

Gua Sha Cupping

Ever since Michael Phelps had those big reddish-purple circular suction marks on his back, the popularity of cupping has increased dramatically. However, the understanding of what cupping and Gua Sha is, its uses, and contraindications are still not commonly known.


Cupping has been around for thousands of years, dating back to Ancient China, Greek, and even Egypt, and is known by many different names all around the world. There is even historical data that supports Hippocrates using cupping as a part of ‘humoral’ medicine. Past generations used cupping as a way to balance the blood because imbalances led to sickness. Many instruments were used for cupping, including horns, pottery, bronze, and even bamboo cups. Uses include: treating cold, heat, and wind invasion, the common cold, pneumonia, bronchitis, emphysema, tight connective tissue, scars, and adhesions, chronically tight muscles (deep tissue), and to open the channels in the body.

There are many different forms of cupping now, ranging from manual suction cups, to silicone, as well as flame-cupping. However, flame cupping is the most traditional form and also the most powerful. Using a pea-sized cotton ball lightly dipped in alcohol and lit on fire, it creates a powerful vacuum suction in the cup. Although it can be tricky, it’s also the most flexible. If there’s ever too much suction, all the therapist has to do is let a little bit of air out.

After a cupping treatment, you will most likely have suction marks on the treated area. They are not bruises and will not respond to any sort of bruise treatment therapy. They last anywhere between 2 and 4 days and will go away naturally over time. So if it’s not a bruise, then what is it? The actual term for the reddish-purple coloring you see is ‘Sha.’ Sha is essentially blood stagnation, and the darker the color, the more stagnation present in that area. After several treatments, you will notice that the color of the Sha will decrease and may even subside entirely.

Gua Sha

Gua Sha has also been around for quite some time, with the first verified text appearance dating back to 200 BCE in Shan Han Lun (Scrape Away Fever). Throughout history, it has been used to reduce fever (treat cholera), treat fatigue due to heat or cold exposure, cough and dyspnea – bronchitis, asthma, and emphysema – muscle and tendon injuries, fibromyalgia, headaches, sunstroke, nausea, stiffness, pain and immobility, digestive disorders, urinary and gynecological disorders, as well as to assist with reactions to food poisoning and push sluggish circulation.

Gua Sha can be performed using many different types of tools, however, the most common practice in the United States is a Chinese soup spoon. It’s ceramic, easy to hold, and isn’t damaging to the skin like metal. Yet again, Gua Sha creates a localized inflammatory response that causes your body’s immune system to increase blood flow to that area, thereby aiding the body to bring any toxins and foreign invaders to the surface of the integumentary system (skin) to help flush them out. As a receiver of Gua Sha, you will notice redness and even red dots on the area treated by the practitioner – this is completely normal and will go away within 2-4 days of treatment.

Contraindications of Cupping and Gua Sha

As always, with any massage or bodywork treatment you receive, it is very important that you be fully honest with any chronic conditions, medications and ailments you have, as this may affect your treatment plan. Communication is essential – if the pressure is too much or if you need the suction of the cup adjusted, you need to tell the practitioner. Because the cups are made of glass, they can also get warm sometimes, although rarely cause burns except for extreme negligence of the practitioner. Always tell your practitioner if you feel that the cup is too warm or if you need any adjustments.


The Traditional Chinese Method of cupping uses fire – so that means that you shouldn’t wear anything that is flammable – i.e. gel, hairspray, or other flammable products. If you do have any hairspray or gel in your hair, notify your practitioner. In that case, the practitioner will cover your head with a towel as a precautionary method.

Conditions that would prevent you from receiving cupping include: hemophilia, if you are on any blood thinners, have cardiac failure or renal failure, ascites due to hepato-cirrhosis and severe edema, as well as hemorrhagic diseases such as allergic pupura, leukemia, and clients with dermatosis, destruction of skin, or allergic dermatitis.

Cupping should not be applied on the portion where hernia exists or has occurred in the past. For pregnant women, the lower abdomen, medial leg and lumbosacral region should be avoided. (

Gua Sha

  1. Contraindicated conditions: various acute or chronic infectious disease, acute persistent high-grade fever, acute osteomyelitis, tuberculous arthritis, acute abdomen or infectious skin disease, diabetes, and hemorrhagic conditions such as thrombopenia or coagulation disorders. (

  2. Contraindicated body parts: Body parts with skin ulcers, sores, scalding, recent fracture, or wounds.

  3. Contraindicated points: Points located in the lumbosacral area or special points for women during menstruation or pregnancy, such as Sanyinjiao, Hegu, Jianjing, and Kunlun; otherwise, it may cause irregular period, miscarriage, or premature birth.

  4. Physiological contraindications: During menstruation, pregnancy, lactation, or menopause, and those with excessive hunger, overeat, fatigue or nervousness.

I hope that you’ve found the information provided here useful and informative and I look forward to our treatments together! As always, please contact me should you have any questions.

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