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Cupping Demystified

One of the most frequent questions I ask my patients is if they have ever heard of cupping, and usually the answer is something along the lines of “I’ve heard of it but don’t know what it is,” or “oh yea, that’s those circle bruises on Michael Phelps, right?” Though the decorated swimmer definitely put cupping on the map, it’s actually been around for a much longer time than that. My goal in this post is to go into what cupping actually is, why we might use it in a treatment session and the possible benefits.

Cupping therapy has been around for thousands of years, first written about in ancient Egyptian texts and as a part of Chinese medicinal practices. Over the years, cupping, or myofascial decompression, has evolved to become part of many different types of treatment and a potent recovery tool to increase mobility of our tissues under the skin, including connective tissue, fascia, muscle, tendons and more. When our bodies are healthy and working properly, these tissues have a natural mobility and fluidity to them. However, due to injury or chronic overuse, these tissue layers can become restricted and cause pain and inflammation to the area. The benefit of dry cupping is in its decompressive nature; helping to release tension in those tissues, including reducing trigger points and scarring, improving blood flow and bringing healing nutrients to the area, as well as affecting the neuromuscular system and pain receptors for pain relief.

When utilizing dry cupping techniques, the practitioner places small round cups on your skin, using a pump to create negative pressure, effectively suctioning the skin and underlying tissues up into the cup. Where the cup is placed depends on the location of pain and the anatomical structures underneath the cups. No heat or fire is used as part of the cupping treatments used at The R3finery. Frequently, the practitioner will manipulate the cup and/or have you complete active movements with the cups placed in order to increase effectiveness and create longer lasting changes to the tissue. Once the cups are released and removed, a typical response is to see the skin turn pink, red, or purple, which could last about 3-7 days.

Cupping can be a great tool for practitioners to aide in the healing of their patient’s ailments, however frequently it is just that: a tool in a larger and expansive tool box of other treatments. Cupping works best as an adjunct to physical therapy interventions. It is important in order to make lasting improvements and for your wellbeing to continue the course of treatment recommended by your physical therapist.

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