I Tried Cupping During a Massage and It Was Weirdly Relaxing
I mixed the ancient recovery technique with a traditional relaxation massage and found the combo oddly satisfying.
As you can imagine working at Shape, I work out a lot (last year I ran 45 miles in Africa and the year before that I PR’d my squat at 225 lbs). I've learned over the years though, that with great exercise comes great recovery—one of the many reasons I'm a fan of getting regular massages. (Here, more science-backed reasons to book a monthly massage).
The problem? I'm ticklish. Like, so ticklish that I can't stop squirming, and then stressing about what my massage therapist must be thinking about my squirming. In other words, I tend to think about massages as recovery first, relaxation second.
That’s why I was particularly interested in trying out The Red Door Spa’s new silicon cupping enhancement or what they call “deep tissue in a cup,” which includes both regular cupping (where the cups are left in a stationary position) and slide cupping (moving the cups on the body with oil or lotion) added to any massage for just $25.
Instead of the manual manipulation of a deep tissue massage, the suction used in the silicone cups helps increase circulation without a lot of touching (or tickling). "With the silicone cups, our main focus at the Red Door is the musculoskeletal system, the unraveling of the fascia and trigger points as well as flushing and sedating the nervous system," says Monique Blake, national director of body at The Red Door. (Related: 8 Brutally Honest Confessions from Massage Therapists)
Bonus: Unlike the traditional glass cups, the silicone cups used in the massage don’t leave Michael Phelps-like welts on your body. (While some may experience slight redness from the silicone cups, but I didn't have any marks at all after treatment.)
I thought four days after running my first Shape Half-Marathon there was no better time to give my bod some TLC and Blake agreed: "Cupping can be used after a workout to mitigate the effects of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness)."
Plus, I was intrigued when I heard about cupping's potential skin perks. Kim Kardashian even did facial cupping to reduce fine lines and wrinkles. This added benefit of cupping promotes blood blow and collagen production, explains Mona Dan, an acupuncturist and founder of Vie Healing who offers cupping as a stand-alone treatment and as an add-on to massages at her West Hollywood and Beverly Hills studios.
I had only done cupping once before at my chiropractor after I tore both my calf muscles kickboxing (oops). That kind of cupping was a very different experience. Under the bright fluorescent lights with the glass cups suctioned to my body and whatever Pearl Jam song my chiro wanted to listen to wasn’t the most relaxing experience—so I was interested to see how a cupping massage on Fifth Avenue in NYC would go. (If you can’t find a cupping massage nearby, you may want to try at-home cupping therapy, which is a fraction of the cost of a spa treatment.)
My Experience with a Cupping Massage
Before the treatment began by masseuse showed me how the silicone cupping works—he just squeezed the middle of the cup to create a vacuum of air between my skin and the cup and applied it to my skin. It felt like a slight tug—that’s it. To combat my ticklish tendencies, the massage therapist began by putting a hot towel on my back and then massaged my limbs normally. “The warm towel can be used to create more circulation as well as relax the nervous system, which in turn may help with lowering the intensity of the cups,” says Blake.
Even with the towel, it took a while for my body and my brain to warm up to the idea of the slide cupping and melt into the table. Eventually, my mind started to slide with the cups and think about all the muscles it was hitting and the fascia it was unraveling—a mental trick that helps me stay in the moment and not give into the ticklish reaction.
My masseuse, Stuart Toledo, body department lead at The Red Door, would switch between two different size cups based on the size of the muscle group he was tending to. At times he would leave a cup on me for a few seconds, while he manually massaged an area of my body, and then would go back to the cup and glide over my body with the cup to work out another patch of tangled fascia. It felt like he was conducting an orchestra—a far cry from the clinical feel of a chiropractors office (no shade, I seriously heart my docs).
The most memorable part of the whole experience was when he started to slide cup over my left calf. It was smooth sailing—er, cupping— for most of the experience but when he got to my left calf I could feel the suction intensify and according to Physio Logic chiropractor and licensed acupuncturist, Allison Heffron, that was no coincidence. “Cupping is definitely diagnostic," says Heffron. She explained that as a practitioner slides over different muscles he or she can feel the texture of the structures beneath the cup as it is sliding and determine where the cupping is needed most. "Sometimes it has a 'gritty' texture that indicates very tight and dysfunctional connective tissue, which can cause a slew of issues with regards to pain and function at the muscle level too," she explained. Who knew? (P.S., you don’t have to be an Olympic-size athlete to reap the benefits of traditional cupping.)
Overall, I really enjoyed my experience, and while I wasn’t floating after the massage as I did after some other spa treatments, I did feel looser and in a different way, detoxed.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. Do I think it enhanced my recovery? Maybe. All I know is that any information I can get on how to guide my recover—like spending more time stretching that left calf— is a good enough reason to tack on $25 to my treatment.