Cupping for Athletes and You


Lexie Bennetts, Licensed Acupuncturist, Explains the Healing Technique of Cupping

Watching the Olympics and other sports, you may be have noticed more athletes have round bruise or hickey like circles on their shoulders and back.  These marks are suction marks left from a treatment called cupping.  Many athletes are finding the amazing relief cupping can give for tense, sore muscles.

Cupping has been used as part of Chinese medicine for a couple thousand years and, often but not always, is used along with acupuncture and liniments. Even Michael Phelps had visible cupping marks during his 2016 events. Olympic swimmers and many celebrities use cupping as well.

The pain relief is similar to massage, I describe it to my patients as the opposite of massage. Instead of having muscles pushed, cupping pulls the muscles, fascia and skin. This pulling away from the bones helps release tension, increase blood and energy flow and helps relieve what Chinese medicine calls stagnation or stuck energy. There are a few techniques with cupping; gliding, pop cupping and retention cupping.

With gliding we get the skin slick enough with oil / liniment and the cup just tight enough to suction on and then glide it along the skin, pulling up the muscle.  This feels like a great release, sometimes can be a bit painful depending how tight the cups are.   This can also leave petecea, red lines or little spots on the skin, which are not painful like a bruise. Pop cupping is a technique where cups are suctioned onto an area then pulled off quickly to make a popping sound.  This is yet another, different way to pull on the muscles.  The other often used technique and that tends to leave the round marks, is retention cupping. For this, the cups are left for 10-20 minutes on a tight area such as the back or shoulders or even knees, legs, hips or arms.  This pulling is more consistent and somewhat relaxing.  Often I warn patients they will most likely feel better but it could look bad for a few days.

There are also different types of cups used;  there is what we call firing cupping, where fire on a alcohol swab is used to take the oxygen out of the cup causing it suction to the skin, it is a technique that is done quickly.  Because with fire cupping it is harder to control the suction onto the body, I prefer to use special made pump cups, with which the practitioner uses a pump to get a more exact suction in the cup.

My 4 young boys love the feeling of cupping. They find it helpful with sore muscles from their sports and great for phlegmy coughs, it is great on the upper back.  I use a few cupping kits in my Acupuncture / Chinese medicine practice but I bought a kit for home because my family enjoys this treatment as well.

Cupping therapy dates back to ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern cultures. One of the oldest medical textbooks in the world, the Ebers Papyrus, describes how the ancient Egyptians were using cupping therapy in 1,550 B.C. (Source: WebMD)

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