Source:    Lisa Gutierrez, Knight Ridder News Service

©  Landmark Communications Inc.


THEY WERE the hickey marks seen round the world.

Photographs circulated around the globe of actress Gwyneth Paltrow at a movie premiere in a black strapless top with big, dark, circular marks marching across her back. A beating? A weird skin condition? Had she been mugged by an octopus?


She’d been cupped, and lots of other folks are walking around with similar marks on their bodies.


Cupping is an ancient Chinese procedure performed by acupuncturists to treat everything from lower back pain and arthritis to lung congestion, even infertility. Think of it as an intense, vigorous massage – with a whole lot of suction action.

During a cupping procedure, heated cups are placed over the skin and left there for anywhere from a few minutes to as long as 30. As the air inside the cup cools, the skin and underlying tissue is “sucked” up into the cup – thus the marks – increasing blood circulation to the area.

Helen McCollum, a licensed acupuncturist in Virginia Beach , has practiced cupping since 1998.

“In this area, I end up treating more pain than maintenance,” she says, adding that it works well on pains like a knot in the back or shoulder or a charley horse.

McCollum usually pairs cupping with acupuncture for a treatment. Certain acupuncture points, such as the liver, are excellent areas for the cupping technique, she says.

Alternative BodyCare in Virginia Beach offers a similar technique using a massage therapist’s bare hands. Picture two hands cupped, as if they are holding water, and then turned upside down. A hollow, percussion sound is created when the hands drum on a patient’s back and ease lung congestion.

Gale Gervais, owner of Alternative BodyCare, says actual cups seem like they would create a similar effect to the hand massage stroke.

“It forms like a little vacuum. It doesn’t just affect the skin. It goes deeper than that,” she says.

One way of applying cupping involves heat. A patient lies face down on a massage table, stripped to the waist. An acupuncturist dips a cotton ball or swab in alcohol and sets it afire with a lighter. Next she picks up a small glass cup shaped like a tiny fish bowl.

She pushes the cotton torch inside the cup, pulls it out and swiftly plops the bowl onto an acupuncture point on the patient’s back.

Because the heat depressurized the air inside the cup, creating a vacuum, the cup sticks tightly to the back. Within seconds, the skin underneath the cup begins to slightly darken as blood rushes to the spot.

Cupping doesn’t always involve fire. Another method of suction involves cups with valves. A small, hand-operated pump attached to the cup’s valve is used to suck the air out.

People who’ve been cupped say that it doesn’t hurt, that it feels like a gentle squeezing, or tightening, of the skin.

“It feels like a wonderful massage,” says McCollum.

In Kansas City , acupuncturist Kathleen Coleton finds that cupping is most beneficial for people with muscle aches, especially on the back and across the shoulders. She likens the suction treatment to grabbing onto a muscle and not letting go of it until it relaxes and releases its tension.

“I don’t think cupping is appropriate for every part of the body,” says Coleton, a member of the Missouri Acupuncturist Advisory Committee, which licenses and regulates all acupuncturists in the state.

For instance, cupping wouldn’t work on something like Parkinson’s disease, because “it doesn’t affect the neurological system,” Coleton says. And someone with fibromyalgia, who may be physically weak and especially achy, “a lot of times can’t take a real aggressive treatment” of cupping, she says.

“And at certain points of the body there’s not enough muscle. You probably wouldn’t, but could, do it on the face. And you probably wouldn’t want to do it on the front of the neck … but on the back of the neck where people get tension headaches.”

Depending on how many cups are applied, a procedure can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. McCollum charges $60 for one treatment, which lasts at least an hour.

As Paltrow knows, the procedure can leave marks, which typically disappear after three to six days.

McCollum says she often limits the amount of time that the cups are applied so they don’t leave marks behind.

“I haven’t met too many people in this area who would like to walk around with red marks on their back.”

Gwyneth Paltrow’s cupping marks are evident as she attends a

screening of “Anchorman, The Legend of Ron Burgundy.”

©  Virginian-Pilot

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