What is Cupping?

  • Ever since Michael Phelps made his Olympic appearance with the trademark circular marks, cupping has become increasingly popular. But what is it and what exactly does it do? This will help shed some light onto these questions.
Michael Phelps with cupping marks
Cupping marks on Michael Phelps

What is it?

  • Cupping has been around for a longgggg time, with evidence for its use all the way back to 1550 BC by the Egyptians. It involves the placement of cups (glass or plastic) onto the body, which are then suctioned (with the use of fire or an air pump) to lift the treated area into the cups. From there, the cups can either be kept in place (static) or moved around (dynamic).
Static cupping
Static cupping

What does it do / What is it used for?

  • Cupping acts as a form of myofascial release (a way of loosening up fascia around muscles), similar to foam rolling. It can be used for a number of reasons, including pain-relief, decreasing inflammation, increasing blood flow, and improving range-of-motion. While feeling like a deep tissue massage, the overall goal is to help loosen up and support the healing process of the area being treated.

Is there any evidence for it?

  • Like all forms of medicine, there is always a research gap – meaning that practices that show potential positive benefits still have to undergo the research to fully back its use. Since this practice has recently started to become more mainstream, research is just now starting to come out. Below are a few studies on some potential benefits:
  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29340888 –> “Wet cupping therapy could improve analgesic effects in patients with nerve root cervical spondylosis…”
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28946531 –> “Cupping therapy can significantly decrease the VAS scores and ODI scores for patients with low back pain compared to the control management…”
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28219058 –> “Cupping massage appears to be effective in reducing pain and increasing function and quality of life in patients with chronic nonspecific neck pain…”




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Written by Dr. Brandon Buchla, DC, CSCS

Check us out at www.atpplusct.com

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