You may remember Michael Phelps, Floyd Mayweather, as well as celebrities such as Gwenyth Paltrow and Victoria Beckham with those strange purple perfectly formed circles all over their skin appearing in the news. You may also have wondered how they got those, why they had them and did they hurt? Those are the results of a therapy called cupping. What is cupping? How does it work? Well…We’re here to explain it all.
What is Cupping?
Therapeutic Cupping, as you can imagine, uses little cups to create suction or a vacuum. These cups are placed on your body in areas that are tense and a vacuum is created. The cup pulls your skin up through the cup but underneath it, it’s working 4 inches into the muscle releasing built-up tension. This vacuum works to also pull the blood to the surface of your skin creating those perfectly formed purple circles. It is used to treat inflammation, tear down scar tissue, increase circulation and lower stress. It is a form of therapy that has been around for thousands of years but only recently has gained a lot of media attention. A few fun facts about cupping:
- Half an hour of cupping has the same effect on the body as one hour of deep tissue massage.
- Cupping can reach as far as 4 inches under the skin reaching some places that massage alone can’t.
- Cupping is a form of therapy that has been practiced for thousands of years beginning with the Ancient Egyptians, Chinese Dynasties, and the Ancient Greeks using methods such as cattle horns and Bamboo to create suction.
How Does Cupping Work?
When the cup is placed on the skin, the pressure from the cup causes microtrauma to the blood vessels under the skin creating increased blood flow. With increased blood flow, toxins and waste that were stagnant in the tissue are flushed out and only the oxygen-rich blood remains. The benefit of this is increased performance. This process also used to flush out lactic acid allowing healing after strenuous exercise to allow more efficient recovery. Another huge benefit of cupping is myofascial release. Fascia is the connective tissue that lies under the skin. It protects the muscles, blood vessels, nerves, and bones. This tissue with muscle tissue makes up the myofascial system. Sometimes the fascia and other tissue can get stuck together creating what is called an adhesion. These adhesions result in sore muscles, restricted movement, and pain. Instead of pushing into a tight area, the therapeutic cup will pull up on the tension and allow the rich oxygenated blood flow more freely resulting in faster recovery time. 30 minutes of cupping is equivalent in one whole hour of deep tissue massage but doesn’t leave you sore. You can imagine what benefit that would do for a busy person with almost no time to spare on themselves.
Who Can Use Cupping Therapy?
Cupping in the media is portrayed as used by only serious, intense athletes or celebrities. There are many benefits that come from cupping and you don’t have to be involved in strenuous activities or walking on a red carpet to receive those benefits. Cupping can relieve stress from a wide range of things such as migraines, sore or stiff muscles, symptoms from common colds, encourage circulation, and so much more. Conditions that can be helped or improved with cupping:
- Stress relief
- Tension in neck, back, and shoulders
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- IT Band irritation/discomfort
- Knee pain
- Plantar Fasciitis
- Acid Reflux
- Jaw pain
- Scar reduction
- Sinus congestion
- Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
- Cerebral Palsy symptoms
- And many more…
Adhesions can occur and blood can become stagnant from just doing the day to day routine. Regardless of what activity you take part in, you can be prone to adhesions and stagnation. The body is constantly trying to rid itself of waste, but is not always able to or may not be very efficient in doing so. Cupping facilitates the body’s efforts to rid itself of toxins and makes this process much more efficient.
Are Those Purple Circles Bruises?
This is a question commonly asked when researching cupping. These cupping marks differ from bruises in a few ways. Bruises usually are caused by pain or trauma and hurt when you touch them. Cupping marks are caused by increased blood flow and are not painful to touch. Bruises usually change color over time and cupping marks fade with time. The darker the mark, the more stagnation, and toxins in the tissues. Lighter marks are a sign of healthy tissue with oxygen-rich blood. The more you receive cupping therapy, the lighter the marks will be every time.
Cupping and Inflammation
Inflammation in the body usually occurs where there is either an infection or an injury. Your body’s natural response is to try to stabilize the areas where inflammation occurs by trying to repair tissue and flush out any damaged tissue by way of lymphatic drainage. Lymph is a fluid that circulates through the lymphatic system which reaches all over the body. Lymph is meant to rid the body of toxins, and it carries white blood cells which are essential to fighting infection. Cupping helps alleviate inflammation by separating the tissue. This newly separated tissue allows lymph to better circulate through the inflamed tissue, speeding up the healing process.
Cupping and Scarring
When tissue experiences injury the body uses collagen to repair the damage. Collagen is a type of protein that is found in many tissues in the body. As collagen repairs the tissue, it forms a different pattern than the original tissue, creating scar tissue. This scar tissue differs from normal tissue in the way that there is decreased blood and lymph flow. The movement in this tissue is also restricted due to a lack of elasticity in the fibers created by collagen. As mentioned before, cupping is used to separate tissue. The principle is the same even for scar tissue. When the scar tissue is separated it allows the blood and lymph to flow through the tissue. The circulation of blood and lymph through this tissue will encourage healing, greatly reduce the appearance of scars, and increase the elasticity and overall health of the scar.
Untapped Patient Stories
Our client James (name changed for privacy), came into our office seeking relief for headaches. While he was lying on the massage table, it was noted that he had a very large scar on the right side of his body. It turns out he was born with a third lung and had to have emergency surgery to remove it. As James grew throughout his life the scar tissue hadn’t grown at the same rate. It looked like his body was being pulled into his scar. He had seen a chiropractor to help realign his spine many times, but every time his spine would curve toward the scar. We started to use cupping on James to attempt to loosen that scar tissue and promote healing. As we continued with cupping, we noticed his scar began to fade and the connective tissue around the scar began to release. He bought a therapeutic cupping set and used it in between our sessions with him. He noticed that there was less tension on his rib cage and spine and as a result, he was able to breathe better. He also noticed an increase in his mobility as well. He began playing his favorite sport, basketball, again and was finally able to keep up with his kids.
Rick (name changed per HIPAA) is a patient of ours who had surgery on his spinal column which required fusing his C6 and C7 vertebrae. Months after his surgery he noticed that he started to lose feeling in his pinky finger. He started dropping things and snagging his pinky when he would put his pinky in his finger. Rick commented that it felt like his finger was always asleep. One day while at work Rick was talking with another one of our clients who had had a 60-minute cupping session and mentioned how it greatly improved his comfort level while traveling. This client had never been able to be comfortable while travelling, but after receiving cupping, he had actually felt relief while on his vacation. Rick decided to book a massage and give cupping a try. Justin, the lead male massage therapist, worked through the tension in the shoulders and found the scar tissue in his neck from the surgery. Justin also found that his pectoralis muscles were extremely tight as well. This resulted in a forward posture. Justin used our therapy cupping set to break down the scar tissue and loosen the pectoralis muscles. After the 60-minute session was over, Justin stepped out to get Rick some water and document the report for Rick’s session. As he was writing he heard Rick laughing inside the room. When he came out of the room, Rick was still laughing and explained that he picked his keys up with his pinkies. He was so amazed at what he had just done, all he could do was laugh. He would not need the corrective surgery to fix what he thought was wrong with his pinkies. He couldn’t believe it!