The term detoxification can be interpreted many different ways, from substance abuse and foreign objects in the body to weight loss and “seasonal/regular cleansing.” As professional massage therapists, our clients trust in our knowledge to help them to detoxify their bodies.

Massage therapy presents a wide range of options to help them achieve this goal, and with proper training we can offer effective and safe options. Vacuum therapies are by far, in my experience, one of the greatest mechanisms to help externally facilitate a cleansing process.  Safe applications of cups can greatly benefit our clients by means of three primary components: the lymphatic system, muscle tissue and visceral organs.

Toxicity can be defined with great diversity, too, but in general, our focus is to rid the body of harmful substances. From bacterial infections and interstitial debris to external pathogens such as coal dust or cigarette/campfire smoke, toxicity can mean something different to each individual person. It can be superficial lymphatic dysfunction. It can be how one experiences DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). It can be constipation. It can be systemic shock and chemical imbalances from substance abuse and the subsequent withdrawal discomforts. Everybody has different priorities when it comes to their definition of detoxifying and what they consider toxic. Various cupping therapy applications can yield amazing, therapeutic results within our scope of practice.

Vacuum Therapy - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register MarkThe basic mechanism of how cups affect the body is a combination of vasodilation, increased blood flow, lymphatic drainage and separation of tissue from negative pressure. Combined or independently addressed, this is a highly versatile, therapeutic tool which requires thorough training to achieve optimal results. An analogy that a student once told me (and I use today) is seeing how great a vacuum cleaner is for your carpet, this is what vacuum therapies can do for your body! Humorous comparison at best, but it does give great insight to how cups can affect one’s body.

Starting at the surface, the lymphatic system is our body’s strongest line of defense. Its delicate network of vessels, drainage nodes and ducts can be easily influenced. Unlike our circulatory system which has the heart to act as a pump to move blood, lymph relies on exercise, superficial stimulation and hydration to move along its drainage pathways. Cups can not only mimic the rhythmic movements of lymph drainage, but can additionally loosen any obstructive adhesions along the way, creating a literal fluid channel for lymph and other interstitial fluids to pass through. Cups can be used as light as necessary to mimic true superficial drainage, slightly deeper to address the intermediate levels and even deeper still to penetrate to the deepest layers of lymphatic anatomy. The suction of the cup creates a pumping-like movement on the body and this is what is so powerful here. A large part of the function of the lymph is to act as our body’s “sewage system” and cups help to “flush” the body tissues. From cellulite or edema to “Solid Bloat,” vacuum therapies show truly remarkable results when used appropriately. Many clients even described feeling “like a full body decongestant” after receiving this work.

Muscle tissue can benefit greatly from the cupping detox in a multitude of ways, too. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is a term used for any post-exertion soreness or ache felt in the body and it simply cannot be avoided. However, we have found that the use of cups to feed healthy blood to muscles while simultaneously flushing out lactic acid and any inflammatory agents that may appear (acute or chronic) can greatly enhance both one’s recovery and one’s performance. Picture the IlioTibular band for example: So tight and restrictive with most activities, using cups along this band of connective tissue is like nothing you’ve ever felt. It is very decompressive, softening and soothing to this area, and if such work is done consistently can significantly alter one’s discomfort or even associated dysfunction. The fact that musculature can be manipulated with negative pressure that will lift and stretch tissue while feeding blood into ischemic layers makes great sense, rather than to push on tissue that is already stuck.

Some of the most important detoxification happens in the visceral layer. The colon is primary for detoxification through elimination of waste, and yet its function can be easily compromised with anything from dehydration to medications. Abdominal massage is great to address this, however the method by which a cup can lift and stretch tissue can dramatically enhance this work and feels far less invasive to the client. From a light, soothing approach to the lymphatic movement immediately above the colon to deeper peristalsis-like manipulations, cups can really help to stimulate colon elimination and alleviate restrictions. Cups can also address the kidneys, liver and lungs, as long as proper knowledge of such visceral organ work already exists in one’s practice. The skin itself is physically the largest organ associated with detoxification. Cups help to feed blood and nutrients, help draw out congestion and improve the overall tone and function of the skin. There is a notable visual and tactile improvement to one’s skin after receiving such work.

Cups are very powerful tools that require proper training with which you can yield great results. Oppositely, without proper education damage can be done to a client. By nature, inappropriate and strong suction can shock body tissues, create swelling, cause capillary damage and even create a bruise. Far too many people see cup marks and are scared of the work because they hear about the bruises. Moreover, many times they have been yes, bruised, because their therapist wasn’t properly trained. True marks from cupping therapies are indeed great therapeutic releases and can be interpreted many ways, giving insight to numerous evaluatory items; the colors, textures and temperatures or lack thereof can all be relevant.

A common misconception is that marks mean “it worked” and conversely that if you didn’t get a mark from them, you didn’t receive benefit from cups. Phenomenal results occur from the use of cups without any marking at all; cups are simply a tool with impressive potential. Even with some training, there must be common sense and evaluation skills of the bodyworker who is working with the cups. Is there acute inflammation? Is their fluid retention? Injected materials or artificial implants? Vascular issues? Chemotherapy? Blood clots? The acknowledgement of safety and contraindications is imperative for using cups to their utmost efficacy, but once this is learned the only limitation to its applications is the creative incorporations of the practitioner.

In summary, detoxification is a process of limitless interpretation. As bodyworkers, we have access to a wealth of opportunities to enhance our clients’ well being, as well as our professional values and practices. Incorporating vacuum therapies into any detoxifying program will truly change the way you and your clients may feel about cups. From students to countless clients, the feedback is practically unanimous and a favorite description I’ve heard many times is “I feel aired out” after a full-body massage cupping session. How great does that sound?