A version of this article was originally published on Kate Ferguson’s blog.
I tried wet cupping and it was…remarkable.
I will tell you right off the bat that I did not exactly know what the process of wet cupping entailed when I went in to do it. I also didn’t know exactly what was happening even while the process was happening.
But perhaps because of my lack of awareness about the process, it was even more incredible when midway through it I experienced a surprisingly deep release in my back tension. I didn’t even know that I was awaiting that release at all. What a nice surprise.
I knew my back hurt alright, but I had just sort of accepted that perhaps the base state of my back was tight. Turns out, I was wrong about that.
WHY I TRIED WET CUPPING
When I stumbled into this experience, I just thought I was going in to get a massage. I’ve had back pain every day for years so I usually just manage it and then go do something about it when it reaches the point of being unbearable. (Ie: usually at the point that it begins to affect my productivity of tackling the over 100 very specific goals on my master goal list. That’s another story.)
Within the past couple of months, I’ve repeatedly pinched the same nerve in my neck and have had a super tender knot in my shoulder blade area. My incredible chiropractor had aptly called the muscle knot an “angry little guy.”
Those more extreme freakouts in my back are what send me to get the assistance of professionals, but for a very long time, I’ve also felt a general constriction around the back of my rib cage that I had just come to accept. Think a sensation of being jammed downward from top to bottom but also like a vise of some sort just living behind the lungs, squeezing in, and making it hard to sit up straight in certain positions.
Sort of like being locked into a metal chastity belt that focused on my back.
I could not f**kin stretch that thing out no matter what I did. And I even do yoga. Pretty well. “Gracefully” if you ask my yoga teacher. Which you didn’t, but now you know.
I RANDOMLY FOUND MY WET CUPPING PRACTITIONER
When I Googled “massage” and my zip code, I found that there was a massage therapist extremely close to where I live, with extremely good reviews. But he’s not just a massage therapist. This guy is a Taoist healer, which means that he aims to fix people all the way up through services such as acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping, energy healing, etc.
Even seeing all of these services on his website, I still just figured a massage would do the trick. But I did not book a massage, rather I simply explained the bulk of my back pain and asked if he could help. He said yes. I went in the following day.
Upon arrival, my neighborhood cupping practitioner assured me that I “came to the right place” and that he “wasn’t worried” about my back in the longterm despite the fact that I had a 7/10 messed up back.
He also told me, midway through treatment, that I have an incredibly high pain tolerance. This is true. There are pros and cons to that, as you might imagine.*
**(If you need help imagining, I don’t flinch or complain when doctors or healers stick needles in my skin. I have completely (audibly) snapped a ligament in my thumb and then run errands sans gripping ability for five hours before going to the doctor. I once almost skipped urgent care entirely after I burst an ovarian cyst, proceeded to throw up while lying on the floor of a public bathroom, and as I later learned, did some internal bleeding. Which hurts, BTW. But that was the old me. I do not suggest being “good” at pain. If you hurt, do something.)
Back to my back. My practitioner suggested that a two-hour treatment of dry cupping, wet cupping, and acupuncture would fix me right up…and probably just in one session. One session? According to most practitioners out there who treat back pain, it’s often necessary to return monthly to sustain results. Call me intrigued.
I agreed to the mission, stripped-down, (after I was left alone in the room of course), hopped on the table, and proceeded to have my first cupping experience.
Now, this guy is a traditional Chinese healer so this cupping was also the traditional version where they use glass cups and fire. (They put the fire into the cup to create the right conditions for the cup to latch onto your back.) I’ve read that some people do cupping now with plastic cups attached to machines that create a suction. I’ve never tried the latter, obviously, but I do prefer keeping things natural and authentic. Give me the firey glass!
This portion of the cupping basically just felt like what it is. Cups giving you giant hickeys. I lay there quietly, receiving cup hickeys on my back for 15 minutes. And then the real fun started.
The next round of cupping was the wet kind. To be quite frank, if someone had told me exactly what this entailed and tried to sell me on trying it, I’m not sure that I would have specifically sought it out. I’m telling you this to gain credibility in your mind, in hopes that someone might be moved to try this life-changing experience for their own good. FYI, this is not a paid placement of any kind. I am telling you the simple truth about wet cupping because I feel passionate about it.
MY CUPPING EXPERIENCE WAS AMAZING.
It was seriously amazing.
Leading up to the point where it got amazing, my back was stamped all with something, which punctured my skin. To make it bleed. I did not get a glimpse of the tool used for this part, as I was laying on the table and it came on quickly. But It seems like a similar concept to those micro-needling stamps they use on the face. Except bigger maybe? More stinging. But since I was face down naked on the table and already well into my procedure, I leaned into the experience with very few questions. I’m pretty chill. Outwardly.
After my back was stamped open, the fire heated cups were applied, and then I was left there for another 15 minutes to lay in silence while receiving more of the back hickies. (This process does require a bit of patience.)
It was a little uncomfortable, but I mostly found myself pondering the whole concept of being uncomfortable. How we run from it and try to avoid all day every day (and lament it when it does occur anyway), and yet, it’s the exact thing that is necessary for growth and healing most of the time.
Facing anything head-on is uncomfortable. Just simply meditating is a mind field for many people. Why?
It’s not inherently uncomfortable, you literally just sit there and relax. But it’s without distraction, which we love. Do you realize how weird that is? That it’s uncomfortable to even just be when you’re trying to fight circumstances or avoid a truth that lives in you? Stop fighting everything, you guys.
While I was laying there, semi-patiently receiving my cupping treatment, I was also reminded of some of the more extreme spiritual work I did in my 20’s, which I had not done in a while. Activities such as going to a silent retreat for a week of meditation, or attending fire ceremonies where people are literally throwing things onto the fire things that they want to transform or let go of. That stuff is uncomfortable. No doubt. But it is transformational 100%. No one ever said we were supposed to be comfortable all the time! Leave the comfort zone!
As I’m thinking about all this (and thinking about how I planned to blog about it), I started to feel strong. Yes, strong. Maybe like, a warrior woman. There I was, patiently accepting, uncomfortable, in hopes of ultimately releasing pain I didn’t want anymore, and not fighting against the path to achieving that freedom. I felt proud.
Soon after, I experienced a physical change which I can mostly explain by saying that my back opened up.
IT FELT LIKE MY BACK MUSCLES WERE RELEASED, EXPANDED, SAVED.
The feeling of that metal cage was removed from my ribs. I could suddenly breathe into my back, deep into my lungs without it catching. Oxygen filled areas of my back muscles with a cool breeze like they were being exposed to air for the first time in a long time. And I am not exaggerating-it continued to feel like that for days. Like a cool breathy breeze in my back.
I spent the remainder of that session deeply breathing into my back and marveling at this new way of experiencing my body. When it came time to remove the cups, I was surprised to find that they contained blood. I know this because they were shown to me, otherwise, I would have never known that I was literally expelling during that process. But the blood the cups contained wasn’t like the blood that comes out when you get a cut. It was more like slugs. Yes, slugs.
WHY WET CUPPING WORKS
According to my practitioner and the long history of Chinese medicine, those “slugs” are sort of like bruises that stay under the skin after an injury has taken place. The fact that they stay there unless they are removed is the reason why people commonly get repeat injuries in the same area of the body over and over. Like spraining an ankle, or dislocating a shoulder.
If I had known that blood slugs were exiting my back before I had felt the experience of my back opening up, I would have wondered if there was a placebo effect going on. Things literally came out of me at the time I felt a release. But I didn’t know. When those blood slugs slugged out of my back, it allowed me to deeply breathe again. Fact. It allowed me to walk around, breathe deep, and marvel at my ability to breathe into my back for days. Incredible.
But my treatment wasn’t done after the wet cupping.
NEXT CAME THE ACUPUNCTURE.
We then moved on to two different rounds of acupuncture, one of which was 45 long. (Patience 2.0.) This miracle worker felt around on my muscles and stuck acupuncture needles into the trouble ones, one of which was the “angry” shoulder muscle. Another was on the right side of my neck.
To summarize this part of the process, when that spot on my neck was touched it was tender and I yelped a little. Mostly because it surprised me that it hurt that much. And that he targeted it in the way that he did. After laying there (somewhat uncomfortably) for 45 minutes with a needle in it, he removed it and touched the spot again. No tenderness. None. Gone. He laughed with glee and compared my neck to tofu. “See?” he said. Yes, I see.
And for the record, none of that really hurt. Even adjusting for my high pain tolerance. I think. But even if it did hurt I would do again in a second to relieve my bigger back pain, because IT WORKED WONDERS.
The marks those cups leave are pretty legit. So keep that in mind if you decide to try this and have plans within the next two weeks. Unless you’re trying to pull a Gwyneth Paltrow on the red carpet. Which I might do at some point if given reason to be on a red carpet after I have some cupping.
Also, please be advised that Kate is not a doctor. And that is not just the name of a YouTube series that I almost started once. It’s also a disclaimer. Always check with your practitioner for any health questions or concerns and always find an accredited/licensed person to do things to you when you do them.