My Experience with Chinese Cupping & Scraping (In China!)

chinese cupping
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Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) generally makes some pretty bold claims.  Unlike Western medicine, these claims tend to not be backed up by as much science, rather they are backed by thousands of years of practice within Chinese culture.

I think the trick to TCM is finding what works for you in your quest for a healthy balance.  I’ve yet to fully dig into the medicinal foods and their hot/cold properties, but I am quite enjoying trying out some of the actual practices including massage, cupping, and scraping and would recommend trying it at least once if you’re working or traveling in China.


Chinese Massage:

Well.  Let’s start this out with the fact that I have been going to a massage parlor near my apartment in Shenzhen for a year now and have gotten the exact same 2-hour massage each time for a whopping $15USD.  This week I came in asking if they had cupping and scraping.  I was surprised to find out that these were actually quite common add-ons for most massage services and cost between $3 to $5 USD each.

The masseuse massaged my head, neck, and back for about an hour and then the torture began..


Chinese Scraping Background

The Chinese name for scraping is “gua sha” which literally means “scrape away fever.”  The biggest takeaway from scraping is that it can help alleviate colds and respiratory illnesses.  A small spoon is used to scrape at regions of your skin.  Scraping also increases blood flow and helps release lactic and uric acid trapped in tight muscles that have limited blood flow.  Bruising and redness post-scraping is said to be a good sign, as it lets you know there is a response happening deeper in the muscles and fascia below.

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My Experience with Scraping:

As soon as my massage was over, my masseuse pulled out a white spoon-type object.  She began scraping the spoon on the side of my butt right above where my thigh meets my bum.  At first the scraping seemed manageable, albeit uncomfortable.  But then she just kept going back and forth, scraping deeper and deeper into skin and muscle. The side of my butt’s skin was completely raw, beating red, and already beginning to bruise.  “Good!” she says and then went on to the other side, followed by areas on my back.

As I was beginning to think about the horror l I had gotten myself into, she pulled out her big box of glass cups.

Have you ever had that feeling right as you were at the top of the roller coaster for the first drop.. and you panic a bit? Thinking if you could somehow stop the rollercoaster because you decided you’re not along for the ride?

If this has happened to you, then you know exactly how I was feeling at this moment.  I was a bit shook up from the booty scraping and was beginning to laugh nervously as I watched her cleaning out the glass cups.  My mind was racing through all the bad things that could happen.  I could get burned.  It could hurt and I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it because my back will be covered in glasses!  I could die.

Next day bruising from the scraping pictured below:


chinese scraping

Chinese Cupping Background:

In cupping therapy, many glass cups are lit on fire one by one and placed at various points on your back region.  The heat in these glasses causes a natural suction and the first couple layers of skin will rise up into the glass.

These cups are supposed to increase blood flow and energy circulation.  The placement of these cups is along the meridian of your body, opening up these areas, helping to rid the body of stagnation, so that the energy (qi) can flow freely.  It’s said that these cups can pull toxins out from up to four inches deep within your tissues.

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What Cupping Can be Used for (take it for what it’s worth):

asthma, aches and pains, indigestion, swelling, low back pain, clearing colon blockages, lymphatic system, varicose veins, stretch marks, common cold, pneumonia, bronchitis, blood disorders, rheumatic diseases, fertility and gynecological disorders, eczema, and acne

My Experience Getting Cupped:

Round 1:

She heated up a cup with a lighter and put it on my upper back.  After letting it sit there momentarily, she started pulling the cup all over my back.  I could feel my skin being pulled up as she rubbed it around.  This lasted for a few minutes and then she placed all the cups on my upper back, lower back, and on my upper butt area.  I laid there for maybe 5 minutes with the oddest sensation.  It was like a ton of pressure was lifting my entire back up.  There was not any real pain, just the pulling pressure. Then she took the cups off.

chinese cupping therapy

Round 2

I thought i was done until she took another glass and began rubbing it over my back again.  This time it hurt because she was pulling this suction over the areas that have already been suctioned.  A new set of glasses were placed on different areas of my back and butt.  Some of the spots felt more of like a pinching sensation, especially on some of the glasses put on the sides of my rear as well as near the back of my arms.

She took off the rest of the glasses from my back.  I was finished and flipped over to the other side to finish my massage. I was so mentally exhausted from what had just happened that I couldn’t stop laughing with each spot she tried to massage.  I had hit my limit.

chinese cupping

My Overall Views of the Chinese Cupping & Scraping Experience

I can’t attest to the many health benefits associated with cupping and scraping, but I do have to say that I have never left a massage with my back feeling that weightless or tension-free.  This feeling lasted well into the evening.  I woke up this morning quite sore in my arms as well as my back.  If I decide to try this one again, at least I know what I am getting myself into beforehand.