Cupping is an ancient therapy that has been used across many different cultures. It has gained a lot of popularity in the past decade due to high profile athletes showing their cupping marks on national television or social media. It can be used as a stand alone therapy or as part of a comprehensive acupuncture, chiropractic, physical therapy, or massage treatment.
What is cupping?
Cupping is best recognized by the small, circular, purple “bruise like” marks it leaves behind. These marks are non painful and fade within a few days to a week. In traditional Chinese medicine this discoloration is known as sha or “silt that has been lifted”, while other types of modern practitioners will refer to it as petechiae. Traditional styles of cupping in conjunction with acupuncture and herbal medicine are thought to treat a wide range of both internal and external illnesses, while in recent years cupping has been primarily used to treat muscular issues.
Types of cupping
There are several styles of cups and different techniques for applying each type. First off, The more traditional style of cupping uses glass cups and a small flame to burn the oxygen out of the cup. The negative pressure that results from the flame creates a vacuum and pulls the flesh up into the cup. This style of cupping is still used today.
Another type of cupping is the plastic pump cup. These cups are slightly easier to apply and allow you to fine tune the amount of suction. Each plastic cup has a small valve located at the top, then a hand pump is attached and air is sucked out. This causes a pulling up of the skin and underlying tissue into the cup. I use this style in my practice most often.
Lastly, another common method is to use silicone cups. These cups act like a plunger, and when pressed down on the skin create a suction effect. I find this type of cup works great for bony or more rounded areas.
When should cupping be used?
I use cupping in my treatments when there is a muscular component to the patient’s pain or injury. Cupping won’t do as much good for a ligament sprain, but does exceedingly well when there are movement restrictions or palpable tension in a band of muscle.
Cupping will generally be administered at the end of treatment and cups are left to sit for 5-10 minutes. If there are specific movement restrictions, I may have the patient do mobility drills while the cups are on. Not only does this feel amazing, but it also can create some dramatic changes in movement ability.
The benefits of cupping primarily surround its ability to decompress the myofascial system. We have countless layers of interacting muscle and fascia stacked on top of each other. These layers can become adhered and almost bound together through injury or lack of proper use. Cupping gives these myofascial layers a chance to separate and glide more smoothly over each other. This will in turn lead to improvements in range of motion. In addition, the suction from the cups helps to draw more blood to the injured or dysfunctional area. This can be beneficial for supplying healing tissue with nutrient-rich blood.
If you’re interested in cupping or how it can help you, let’s talk!
Author Adam Gawlak is a Licensed Acupuncturist (LAc) and personal trainer (CSCS). His specialities include sports medicine acupuncture, motor point acupuncture, trigger point needling and traditional Chinese medicine, along with strength training, athletic performance, and corrective exercise.