Over the past few months, there has been a growing interest in a “new” yet ancient method of treatment that recently came to the public’s attention with the help of Michael Phelps. During the Olympics, we all watched as this thirty-one-year-old “dinosaur” in the pool was getting treatment between races and we all asked ourselves, “What in the world are they doing to that guy?!” Michael Phelps would take the block of every race looking like a son of Poseidon that had recently just battled with a giant octopus. So, what were those strange markings on his body and why would the best swimmer of All-Time be having it performed on him? If you continue, you will find those answers.
What is cupping?
The practice of “cupping” is an ancient Chinese technique that uses specialized plastic cups connected to a unique low suction vacuum system which placed on the skin in areas of inflammation. The vacuum causes blood to rush to the area. The new blood then gives way to the formation of new blood vessels, and in a sense, feeds the surrounding tissue with nutrients and oxygen. This reaction of the tissue and the blood vessels creates an environment within the issue that helps to maximize the body’s ability to rebuild and recover from injuries and stress.
The suction also causes the separation of different layers of the tissue causing temporary inflammation, which is the body’s first line of healing. Multiple cups placed in a particular area can also stretch the fascia or band of connective tissues surround the muscle. By separating these layers of tissues, the body can regain the full natural range of motion that was once restricted to the layers of skin and fascia.
How does it help?
Cupping helps aid the process of healing in the affected or damaged area of muscles by:
• Increasing circulation
• Increasing oxygen to tissues
• Encouraging the production of new blood vessels
• Stretching skin, fascia, muscles and connective tissue
• Causing micro trauma and beneficial inflammation
Does it hurt?
Depending on the patient, cupping can cause some temporary discomfort as the vacuum pulls the skin and blood into the muscle. Much of this discomfort goes away after the cup is removed. There will be varying degrees of marks left behind from pink to red or even black and blue, but these are rarely painful. Most patients feel progressively better after a few session and experience more permanent relief.
Cupping and Active Release Therapy (ART)
Cupping is helpful when used in conjunction with other treatments such as ART. The goal of both cupping and ART is to treat soft tissue injuries by improving the function of these tissues that are restricted by adhesions and scar tissue. By making sure that every layer of tissue and every structure is moving freely, the body can function optimally and recover quickly. Both techniques help to increase blood flow, break down fibrous tissue and reduce inflammation in muscles to restore normal function and movement.