Susan Peterson, CAMTC 1039, NCTMB, AMTA

Silicone Cupping Massage Moves Lymph

By Susan Peterson, CAMTC, NCTMB
My massage training focused on a lot of firm and deep tissue techniques. We all want to avoid the blah “skin massage,” a light faux-Swedish spa massage that feels more like an oil application than a health treatment.
Well, smug me, I have found a few light techniques can move the toughest knots.
I am still doing deep and specific techniques, mind you, and I still can be amused by the airy-fairy light Swedish – usually done by someone who is hesitant to have any connection with the body on the table.
But the subtleties of the lymphatic wave have impressed me as an effective way to treat areas that feel like the “tissue that time forgot.”
One way is silicone-cupping massage. I took two classes in the technique, at first a bit bemused by the prospect of using the cups. I had the experience of being treated with the solid glass Chinese suction cups, which had left a big circular bruises on my butt. But my teacher, the esteemed Boris Prilutsky, urged me to give cup massage a try.
Silicone cup massage is very different from Chinese Cupping. Silicone cup massage uses soft silicone cups, a layer of oil on the skin and a slight vacuum to lift the skin. Generally, the cups are kept moving. It does not cause red markings or secondary bruising as can occur in Chinese cupping.
Finding that out was a bit of a relief because I went into class wondering if any American massage therapist would ever use a massage method that could leave big red shiners.
I have to say after about a year of practice on myself and therapist friends, I’m having a lot of fun.
First, cupping massage appears to accelerate lymph by gently lifting the skin and opening lymph vessels near the surface. Along the way, it also feels as if it releases adhesions in the skin/adipose area. When I use the cups, I wonder about the concept of “sluggish lymph” in fibromyalgia and myofascial pain syndrome with this treatment. I was intrigued about the cup action after reading a recent study that found people with fibromyalgia had unusual inflammatory receptors just under their skin.
I have introduced the technique to clients sparingly. I tried it first with a client who has severe fibromyalgia, thinking it might help open up congestion in the lumber area.
I was amazed when this client went into a deep sleep with full diaphragm breathing. After a few minutes, I asked how she liked the cups. “Keep using them,” she said.
Another client had an old ankle fracture. The area still swells and feels stiff. The cups drew out the swelling and seemed to pop about 500 miniscule adhesions in the area. The skin felt smooth and “normal” afterward. The stiffness has cleared up.
So, in my own small sampling, I have found more use for cupping than I had imagined.
A warning, though. Some of the therapists in my first class were looking for an escape – a way to reduce their effort while still charging massage rates.
If anything, the cupping moves slowly, very much like other methods I have studied such as Vodder. My concentration is perhaps even more focused than in a deep-tissue method, something I also experienced with Vodder style. Not using pressure, at least to me, takes more energy rather than less.
As with other tools, too, the cups can pose a serious risk to therapists who have a tight grip. As with stones and knobbers, a tight, inflexible grip can result in forearm tendonitis.
Still, I encourage therapists and clients alike to try massage cups. They won’t use less energy to do the massage, but they seem to help clients in a different, and possibly better, way.