As she posed for the photographers on the red carpet, Hollywood star Jennifer Aniston looked every inch the A-lister.

Shiny hair, immaculate make-up, a glowing tan — not to mention revealing shorts that showed off her perfectly toned legs. But having paid such attention to her appearance, why did Aniston choose a low-backed top that succeeded only in showing off a series of unsightly circular marks on her back?

Interestingly, Aniston was modeling one of the latest celebrity must-have. Many celebrities show that their health routine must include cupping. For those round marks on Aniston’s back are a tell-tale sign of cupping, an ancient Asian therapy where heated cups are placed onto the skin, creating suction that supposedly improves blood flow. Practitioners claim it helps everything from muscle pain to cellulite and depression.

 It was Gwyneth Paltrow — that well-known proponent of anti-gravity yoga and elimination diets for her children — who set the celebrity trend for cupping when she attended a film premiere in 2004 with the distinctive circular welts clearly visible on her back. (see the photos) Victoria Beckham was recently spotted walking through Heathrow Airport with the trademark bruises, and British tennis star Andy Murray has also declared himself to be a cupping devotee, even though his girlfriend Kim Sears said it made him ‘look like a reptile’.

 We can see the temporary marks left behind, but what exactly is cupping and how long has it been around?

Dating back 5,000 years, the ancient Chinese form of alternative therapy is a form of acupuncture, and is based on the idea that suction from the cups draws the skin up and mobilizes blood and energy around the body to promote healing. Suction is created using heat (fire) or mechanical devices (hand or electrical pumps). A partial vacuum is created in cups placed on the skin either by means of heat or suction. It can leave temporary bruised painful marks on the skin and there is also a small risk of burns.

 ‘If someone is under stress, or they’ve suffered a physical trauma like a pulled shoulder, the energy in their body can become stagnated, and this form of therapy can release that condition,” shares Holly Potter, owner of the local wellness center at Everything Zen in Groton, Ct. There are two forms: Dry Cupping and Wet Cupping or Fire Cupping. Potter uses dry cupping. “We use it for our clients for pain therapy as well as pulling the toxins out of the afflicted area. Our clients have experienced almost immediate relief, and some feel no pain by the next day. The marks can last for a few days.”

The cupping procedure commonly involves creating a small area of low air pressure next to the skin. However, there is variety in the tools used, the method of creating the low pressure, and the procedures followed during the treatment.

The cups can be various shapes including balls or bells, and may range in size from 1 to 3 inches (25 to 76 mm) across the opening. Plastic and glass are the most common materials used today, replacing the horn, pottery, bronze and bamboo cups used in earlier times. The low air pressure required may be created by heating the cup or the air inside it with an open flame or a bath in hot scented oils, then placing it against the skin. As the air inside the cup cools, it contracts and draws the skin slightly inside. More recently, vacuum can be created with a mechanical suction pump acting through a valve located at the top of the cup. Rubber cups are also available that squeeze the air out and adapt to uneven or bony surfaces.

In practice, cups are normally used only on softer tissue that can form a good seal with the edge of the cup. They may be used singly or with many to cover a larger area. They may be used by themselves or placed over an acupuncture needle. Skin may be lubricated, allowing the cup to move across the skin slowly.

Depending on the specific treatment, skin marking is common after the cups are removed. This may be a simple red ring that disappears quickly, the discoloration left by the cups is normally from bruising especially if dragging the cups while suctioned from one place to another to break down muscle fiber. Usually treatments are not painful, but treatment is discontinued if the subject experiences more than minor discomfort.

 Cupping enables the blood and energy to move again and travel to the area to begin the healing process. It can also have good results if someone is coming down with a cold. The suction can help to stop the cold penetrating further into the system. Although the resulting marks can look alarming, they are temporary, and this kind of cupping should not hurt in any way as the cups used are thick-rimmed and do not heat up. 

 The photographs of Aniston sparked speculation she may be trying for a baby, as some supporters of cupping say it can be a useful aid to fertility. There are a number of cupping points on each side of the spine which correspond to organs. The most important organ for fertility is the kidney — it’s the source of life according to Chinese medicine.

From the look of Aniston, she’s had cupping in the right spots for fertility treatment. The marks are likely to extend right down to her lower back. If the patient is in good health and has a good diet — like Aniston — then cupping fertility treatment can work within about five days. It also complements IVF treatment.

 However, not quite as exciting is the other alternative that the location of the cupping marks on Jennifer Aniston could indicate some kind of musculoskeletal injury, such as back pain. 

 In China, cupping is such an integral part of mainstream medicine that it is practiced at hospitals for a variety of conditions. The country’s hugely successful Olympic swimming squad are regularly photographed with cupping marks, as it is thought to be helpful with muscular pain. 

 But while Gwyneth and Jennifer are clearly fans, you can make up your own mind about this type of treatment.

 If you have an interest in trying it out, you can contact Holly at Everything Zen for a trial run. Her website is www.EverythingZenMassage.com. I have it done with Holly on a regular basis for chronic back pain. And amazingly, relief is immediate and lasts for 1-2 weeks and the pain returns very slowly. So I am a believer.


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