Cupping Therapy

Anyone who has been watching the Rio Olympics this week may have noticed some athletes, particularly US swimmers like Michael Phelps, with bright red and purple circles on their bodies. These athletes have been using cupping therapy, which is a form of alternative medicine that has been around for thousands of years.  According to one of the oldest medical textbooks in the world, the Ebers Papyrus, ancient Egyptians used cupping therapy as far back as 1,550 BC.

The therapy involves placing cups on a person’s skin and creating a suction, either by heat or by creating a vacuum through the cup used.  The cups can be glass, metal or earthware, and can vary in size. They are placed on different parts of the body and are left on the skin for anywhere between five and fifteen minutes.  The suction causes small blood vessels under the skin to break, which can result in the cup-shaped bruises. This drawing up of the skin pulls on the lower levels of soft tissue and helps the blood move throughout the muscle. As a result of this increased blood flow, it can assist in treatment of deep scar tissues in the muscles and connective tissue, muscle knots, and swelling.  Athletes, whether it be Olympians or weekend warriors, benefit because it can increase the speed of recovery and improve muscle movement.

There are two types of cupping therapy performed; stationary cupping and sliding cupping. In stationary cupping, cups are placed on different meridians or acupuncture points on the body to help circulate blood to that affected areas. The circular bruises you have seen on Olympians are a result of stationary cupping. In sliding cupping, cups are moved over an area that is experiencing pain or tightness, for example a stiff neck and tight hamstrings. Sliding cupping has been described as a reverse massage for tight muscles, stubborn knots and irritated fascia. The chance of bruising is also reduced when doing sliding cupping because the suction does not stay in any one place for very long.
If you are interested in trying out cupping therapy or finding out more information about why so many professional athletes are using cupping, then please contact ProClinix Sports Physical Therapy & Chiropractic. Dr. Jaclyn Amaro is trained in both stationary and sliding cupping therapy, and performs it at our Armonk location.

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