If you watched the most recent Olympics, you could not help but notice the circular bruises on many of the athletes. These marks were not weird injuries, but, from a healing technique called Cupping. So what is Cupping? Cupping is a natural healing technique that has been around in various forms for thousands of years. It was used in ancient Egypt, Greece, Africa and China. There is even evidence of Hippocrates, using this early form of”medicine”. More recently it has been used extensively in Traditional Chinese Medicine as a way to improve the flow of Qi, or “life force”.
Cupping can be performed many different ways, but the concepts are very similar. By using a device, such as a glass, plastic, or silicone “cup” to create a suction (or negative pressure) to lift the skin and underlying fascia. This stretches the fascia, and creates increased blood flow and lymphatic circulation in the area under the cup. This technique is believed to promote healing, decrease scar tissue and decrease pain. Massage Cupping uses the same technique to lift the fascia, but with the addition of a thin layer of oil, the practitioner can glide the cup along the skin to treat a larger area.
This technique makes a whole lot of sense in the manual therapy and fascial therapy fields. There are some very important structures in the space under the skin and between the superficial and deep fascial layers. There are small arteries, veins, lymphatic vessels and many, many, many nerves. If this area becomes tight or adhered down, all of those structures can be affected. Cupping can help to restore normal mobility and circulation in this area.
So what about the dark, bruising marks? Isn’t this harmful or painful? Well, that really depends on who you ask. In many traditions the discoloration of the skin after treatment is a sign of effective treatment as it indicates toxins being released by the tissue. Although not real pretty, this discoloration is not typically painful, however, may be tender and generally resolves in less than a week. From a physical therapist’s perspective, this discoloration comes from small capillaries rupturing during the stretching of the tissue. This may occur with treatment, especially when the fascia is tight or adhered but, is not necessary for effective treatment. Luckily, the newer cupping devices, allow the practitioner to better control the level of suction produced and can help decrease the risk of injury to these small capillaries, while still achieving adequate fascial stretching. In our office, we typically use a gentler form of myofascial cupping, that does not typically result in extensive discoloration.
If you are interested in learning more about how Myofascial Cupping may help you. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or schedule a wellness session today