Cupping Therapy – Myofascial Decompression
Do you remember seeing athletes during the 2016 Summer Olympics with dark circular bruises on their arms and back? Most notably, American swimmer Michael Phelps was seen with these spots on his shoulders and upper back. News outlets, such as the NY Times and BBC, began questioning what the athletes had done to create these bizarre bruises. It turns out Michael Phelps and other Olympic athletes had been using cupping therapy, an ancient form of traditional Eastern medicine that has gained mainstream attention and grown in popularity over the past few years.
What is Cupping?
Cupping therapy, sometimes known as myofascial decompression, is a form of Eastern medicine that has gained popularity in the Western world in recent years. The earliest accounts of cupping can be dated back to 1550 BC. Cupping therapy involves using cups, placed on the skin to form an airtight seal. This seal lifts the skin from the underlying tissues to promote blood flow to the area. In Western medicine, cupping has been used as a complementary medicine to treat pain. As cupping therapy gains popularity, it is more and more being incorporated into physical therapy practice as another tool for pain relief of a variety of musculoskeletal disorders.
How Does Cupping Work?
The cup (glass, plastic, silicone, or similar material) is applied to the skin and negative pressure is created within the cup by either heating the inside or using a hand pump to create a vacuum seal. Once the suction is created between the cup and the skin, the cups are left on the skin for approximately 3-5 minutes. The suctioning effect of cupping lifts the skin from the tissues underneath and allows for release of the fascia and muscles below. In addition, the lifting effect also allows for improved blood flow to the area, bringing nutrients to the site and transports waste materials away.
Effects of Cupping
Cupping allows for increased blood flow and oxygen to reach affected areas, which can help with muscle relaxation. This treatment can be beneficial in reducing trigger points, improving myofascial tissue tension, and reducing pain. Cupping therapy may cause bruising, discomfort, or soreness. The bruises from cupping can last for a few days or a week after a treatment session.
Conditions that Cupping May Help
•Myofascial tissue tension
•Skin Adhesions and Scar tissue
Contraindications for Cupping Therapy
Cupping is not recommended for patients with certain conditions. These include:
• Metastatic Cancer
In addition, the cups cannot be placed over areas of deep vein thrombosis (DVT, i.e. blood clots), arteries, or areas where a pulse can be felt.
Would Cupping Be Beneficial for Me?
Cupping therapy can be utilized as a component of and compliment to physical therapy treatment to help improve pain. While further research is necessary to investigate the long-term effects of cupping, studies have shown that it has been able to effectively reduce pain. Studies have also shown that cupping therapy, paired with traditional physical therapy treatments and exercise can help to improve pain and function. Cupping therapy is a safe and effective treatment when performed by a trained professional. If you are interested in cupping, talk with your physical therapist to see if it is a good option for you!
Written By: Stephanie Dailey SPT, intern from University of Dayton Doctor of Physical Therapy Program