Does Cupping Cause Bruising? There are some important things to note when discussing cupping. The first is, that while they can produce very strong, dark bruises, that from experience I can say that I do not consider them to be “normal” bruises, ie., the result of some damage to the tissue that results in the release of blood and it’s pigments into the local tissue.

The reason is that if the cups were damaging the tissue enough to produce such dark bruises, one would expect that every time one cupped the same tissue, the bruising would increase, because the damage to the tissue would accumulate, and presumably, any symptoms would also increase with such bruising.

However, what is actually seen in practice is that week by week, repeated cupping in the same area, results in less symptoms, and less bruising, and eventually the tissue will stop colouring altogether. So, if the cups were causing a “real” bruise, why would the treatment result in consistent improvement in symptoms and less and less “bruising”?

The answer must be that there is something in the tissue prior to the cupping treatment that is extracted or removed from the tissue as a result of the suction pressure.

The more frequently the suction is applied, the more of this material is removed, and once it has all been removed, there is nothing left to produce colour. Since the symptoms are generally reduced at the same rate that the colouring stops, we can also conclude that the presence of the symptoms, is related to the presence of the colourful material. So what is it? Why does it correlate with symptoms such as pain, stiffness, numbness etc? Why does it appear for all the world to be a bruise?

While we don’t have much in the way of studies currently that would explore or confirm this particular view point, we can make some observations about cupping that are quite consistent.

The first is that the application of cups generally produces some bruising and some symptom relief. If the cups produce relatively little colour, there is often relatively little treatment effect. If the cups produce more colour, they generally produce symptom relief, even if there is some temporary sensitivity. If the cups are used in a given area repeatedly, and if the colour produced starts out dark, it will tend to get lighter, both in terms of the tone of the colour going from dark purple to light pink, from deep, concentrated colour to very faint, over the course of treatment.

What gives bruising it’s colour then? Generally, if blood vessels are damaged, or blood is pulled out of the vessels, it starts as a red patch, because the blood is still carrying oxygen, and then progresses to darker purple, black or even rusty brown colours. As the bruising clears, hemoglobin is reduced to it’s component parts, including bilirubin and biliverdin, which result in a yellowish green appearance, and by the tail end, it will be yellowish or brownish. What we’re seeing is the blood retained in the tissue gradually being recycled and flushed out in it’s component parts.

One interesting observation is that a “real” bruise, or one which was produced by blunt impact for example, will start more red, as fresh blood is initially released by the damage. Whereas bruises from cupping, can in fact start out black, or with black speckles within a generally red cup mark.

So why would it be that a cup could produce dark, black bruising without the initial redness, or as much initial redness as a “real” bruise? Again, it’s an indication that there is already stagnant, deoxygenated blood in the local tissue.

So if we can reasonably conclude that whatever is in the tissue, is either causing, or related to the cause of the symptoms, and that by “vacuuming” that material out of the tissue, the bruising and symptoms tend to disappear together, we are brought to a conclusion and a key idea of Traditional Chinese Medicine – TCM -, that stagnant blood causes problems.

How Does Cupping Work And What Do The Cups Actually Do?