You may have heard of cupping therapy after Michael Phelps famously used it in the 2016 Olympic Games. Throughout his gold medal run, Phelps was spotted with round purple bruises on his back and shoulders. Was it alien intervention? No; it was cupping therapy! From Olympic swimmers to gymnasts and cyclists, incorporating cupping in your recovery to be all the rage right now, but what is it and how does it work?

What Exactly Is Cupping?

Cupping therapy originated in ancient China as a form of therapy to treat anything from the common cold to asthma. This type of treatment utilizes silicone or plastic cups and/or a vacuum pistol to suction the skin. Nowadays, cupping is used in traditional western and physical medicine as a treatment for muscle pain by improving mobility and increasing the blood flow to the area. 

Cupping involves the use of negative pressure to create a suctioning effect. The cups can be left in one position or moved over the skin to manipulate underlying tissues. This prolonged pressure can create the bruising effect you may have seen; more time and more suction will increase the intensity of the markings and not all cupping treatment will leave these marks. 

Reduce Your Recovery Time

Cupping therapy is a go-to for massage therapists, athletic trainers, and physical therapists alike as a form of manual therapy. This treatment is often used for aches, pains and muscle recovery.  The suction created by the cup is thought to produce a tensile stress on both the skin and underlying tissue altering pain thresholds. At Therapydia, we utilize a dry cupping technique as a complementary and alternative technique with specific exercises prescribed for our patients. 

Going The Distance

One of the main benefits of cupping therapy is its ability to promote tissue healing as a non-invasive treatment. The applied suction promotes blood flow to the area. This increase in blood flow brings more oxygen to the tissue, triggering the body to flush out toxins in the suctioned area. In addition, the increased blood flow allows for the area to reduce the time it takes for the tissues to heal. Due to cupping’s ability to promote healing of the body, it allows you to go the distance without the long recovery time. 

The Added Benefits

Cupping can be a very efficient and effective method of improving mobility in muscle and other soft tissue structures (i.e. fascia, tendons, ligaments) by breaking up the cross-links or adhesions that could be causing someone to feel pain and/or tightness in certain areas. A traumatic injury can lead to these adhesions (AKA scar tissue), as well as chronic muscle guarding from prolonged pain. Lastly, cupping can promote fluid or swelling drainage that can be restricting mobility, causing pain, and inhibiting muscle function.