Cupping Therapy

It's Not About The Bruising

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By Dustin Hassard | LMT

Cupping can be explained simply as suction used against the skin. As a Massage Therapist, I use cupping to assist me to warm-up tissue faster, improve joint range-of-motion, stretch fascia, pinpoint knots or trigger points, find areas of stagnant waste, lift tissue that is stuck together, release tension in muscles, draw fluid away from or to an area, and reduce sensations of pain.

Cupping has been around for thousands of years; Hippocrates, the Greek physician, was said to be a fan, but I don't know him well enough to take his word for it. Cupping gained modern infamy when it left those puckered bruises on the bodies of Olympic swimmers for the whole world to see. The bruising is what it's famous for and often associated with. Unfortunately, this may have deterred many from trying it, but the bruising is not the goal or purpose of cupping.

Although there isn't a lot of clinical research to gain the full support of Western medicine, around the world, it is very popular and commonly used as an effective treatment. There is plenty of evidence showing positive results to gain advocacy.

The systems of the body that are affected the most by cupping are the lymphatic system, the muscular system, and the nervous system. The circulatory system is likely affected, but not as a whole.

Some of the believed benefits include:

  • Improved range-of-motion (I agree)
  • Reducing adhesions (stuck tissue; difficult to prove, but I believe it)
  • Lifting, rehydrating, and changing fascia (possibly)
  • Vasodilation (easy to do)
  • Moving fluid and drawing out interstitial debris (sure, why not)
  • Reducing pressure on sensory organs (i.e., pain relief; makes sense)
  • Encourage neovascularization (formation of new vessels; good luck proving this)
  • Causing microtrauma to encourage regeneration of healthy tissue (very difficult to prove)
  • Clear congestion and stagnation (I suppose)
  • Encourage circulation and tissue hydration (probably an indirect effect)
  • Some data suggests that cupping can affect tissue up to 4" deep
  • The belief that cupping removes toxins has been debunked (that's one down)

I don't necessarily believe all of this, but I can see how the connection could be made. This is why we need more clinical data.

I don't recommend cupping for everyone, and I don't use it as a stand-alone treatment (yet), but when combined as part of a therapeutic treatment, and deemed appropriate by a qualified professional, the results I've seen so far have been good. No doubt there have been incidents of cupping being used irresponsibly, but in the hands of a competent user, cupping is more than just a trendy bruise. You can also do self-treatment with cupping, but don't try this at home just yet.