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Cupping... What's The Buzz All About?

Cupping....What's The Buzz All About?

The Olympics might be over but the buzz about cupping isn't! The most decorated Olympian of all time, swimmer Michael Phelps has created quite a stir sporting his cupping marks. So why would an elite athlete have cupping therapy? Cupping is a technique used within the scope of Traditional Chinese Medicine to alleviate pain, promote healing, increase circulation to tense muscles, and reduce adhesions and scar tissue. You can see why athletes would need cupping, but you don't need to be an elite athlete to benefit.

Cupping is a manual suction technique performed by Acupuncturists. A vacuum seal is created in either a glass, silicon, or plastic cup. The most common technique is fire cupping with glass cups. An alcohol soaked cotton ball is lit on fire, and the cup is quickly flamed before placing the cup on the skin. The skin and superficial muscle layers are drawn up into the cup as the vacuum is created. This increases blood circulation to the area, relaxes muscles in spasm, reduces trigger-point pain and promotes lymphatic drainage. Admittedly it sounds a little strange, however, it is a relaxing technique with many benefits, for athletes and couch potatoes alike.

Cupping is often performed on the back, however it can be done on any part of the body where there is enough skin to support the cups. Depending upon the condition being treated, your Acupuncturist may perform either stationary and slide cupping. Stationary cupping is where one or more cups are placed on the affected area for up to 10 min. With slide cupping, an oil based liniment is applied to the skin and the cups are gently moved along acupuncture channels or fascial/muscle planes. This is a great technique to increase range of motion, and to break up adhesions.

Many of my patients who spend long hours at work, sitting and staring at a computer screen complain of chronic tension in the upper back and neck areas. For some this leads to tension headaches and radiating pain into the shoulders and arms. Cupping is my go to therapy in this situation, because of its ability to soften chronically tight muscles, ease pain and promote new circulation.

The down side to cupping is that it leaves temporary hickey-like marks on the skin for up to one week. Maybe not the look you want if you're wearing a strapless dress to a wedding! Certainly if you have blood clotting issues or are on blood thinners, have certain skin conditions, or are pregnant, cupping may not be the best option for you. Judging from the marks cupping leaves on the skin, you would think it would be a painful experience. Quite the opposite! Cupping is usually very pleasant and relaxing. You will feel gentle suction pulling away tension from tight and painful areas, and increased warmth circulating in the tissues.

Here are some of the conditions for which cupping can be really helpful:

  • Back pain and sciatica

  • Chronic muscle tension

  • Shoulder and rotator cuff injuries

  • IT band pain and piriformis syndrome

  • Chronic neck tension and headaches

  • Stress, anxiety and depression

Cupping is usually combined with acupuncture, however it can be used alone. And like all Traditional Chinese Medicine treatments, it's use is based on your individual TCM diagnosis and treatment plan. If you want to know if cupping is a good option for you, contact the clinic.

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