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Cupping Therapy

Cupping Therapy / Myofascial Decompression

Cupping therapy is an ancient practice, one that dates back at least 3500 years with the Egyptians. There’s evidence of medical cupping in China about 3,000 years ago. Hippocrates reportedly used cupping to treat various illnesses in ancient Greece. Today, cupping therapy, or myofascial decompression, is used to treat musculoskeletal disorders and injuries. Cupping therapy recently gained mainstream acceptance in the west following the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro when Michael Phelps sported a series of perfectly round, purple bruises on his back and shoulders — from cupping therapy.

Where other types of physical therapy focus on tissue compression, cupping therapy focuses on myofascial decompression. As its name implies, cupping therapy uses cups on the body. The cups create suction, gently using negative pressure to pull the skin away from the underlying tissue. This increases blood supply to the area, helping to: improve blood flow, relieve muscle tension, reduce scar tissue formation, breakup existing scar tissue, decrease myofascial dysfunction, release tightness in a muscle, release trigger points, and promote cell repair. Cupping therapy has been used to relieve chronic neck pain, shoulder pain, low back pain, knee pain, and fibromyalgia.

In a Men’s Health article, one physician described cupping as a type of  “sterile inflammation” where the body interprets the flow of blood into the tissue as an injury, responding to the so-called injury by sending antibodies to the area.

Static dry cupping is the classic style of cupping therapy involving the placement of cups on the skin for between 3 and 30 minutes while the patient passively lies on the table. Suction is created by either heat  (where the air inside the cup is heated before it’s placed on the skin) or a by a special suction valve on the cup itself.

A newer approach known as dynamic cupping or Tissue Distraction Release with Movement involves more interaction between the patient and the physical therapist. With this technique, the patient activates the joint and tissue underneath the cup while the physical therapist actively glides the cup in various directions. Moving the tissue and cup in this manner helps to further release the soft tissues.

Cupping Therapy Tips

Cupping therapy is unlike other therapies you may have tried in the past. Here are a few tips to help you prepare for a successful cupping session:

  • Discuss whether cupping therapy is right for you with your physical therapist — There are some instances where it may not be suitable. For example, if you are on blood thinners, you should not undergo cupping therapy. Other medications may have an effect as well. Sunburns, wounds, and skin ulcers should all have healed before you undergo cupping therapy. Those with internal organ disorders or recent trauma should avoid cupping therapy. Your physical therapist will also need to know if you are pregnant or menstruating.
  • Prepare for some marks — Round marks similar in appearance to bruises are normal and to be expected due to the suction created. Their extent will vary depending on the duration of the treatment and the individual. The round marks could last anywhere from a 2 to 10 days.  
  • Hydrate — After undergoing any type of deep tissue work, it’s a good idea to drink plenty of water afterwards.

Why Choose Diablo Physical Therapy for Cupping Therapy?

Diablo Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine offers myofascial decompression (cupping therapy) tailored to the unique needs of athletes and non-athletes alike. Whether you have tense or overworked muscles or are suffering from chronic pain, the ancient practice of cupping is a great therapeutic choice. Our physical therapists will evaluate your current condition to determine if cupping therapy is suitable. If so, treatment can begin immediately.

Are you a good candidate for myofascial decompression cupping therapy? Whether you’re currently experiencing pain or would like to prevent it, scheduling a consultation with a physical therapist is a great choice for:

  • Myofascial dysfunction treatment
  • Fibromyalgia pain treatment
  • Plantar fasciitis pain relief
  • Scar tissue massage therapy treatment
  • General muscle pain relief

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FAQs about Cupping Therapy

Is cupping therapy safe?

In general, cupping therapy is well tolerated and safe when applied by a trained therapist. Certain individuals should not undergo cupping therapy including those on blood thinners, pregnant women, the frail and elderly, and those with certain skin conditions. A discussion with a Diablo Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine physical therapist can help determine if cupping therapy is appropriate for you.

Does cupping therapy hurt?

Cupping isn’t generally painful. You’ll feel some pressure but it’s a gentle pulling of the skin. If the discomfort becomes too much, let your therapist know as the strength of the cupping can be adjusted.

How long does cupping take?

Depending on the treatment, expect cupping to take anywhere from three to 30 minutes.

Will I bruise?

Probably. This is to be expected thanks to the suction used. We’d like to note, however, that the marks left behind aren’t technically bruises which consist of broken capillaries caused by impact trauma. Rather, blood and other fluids are drawn out of the muscles and into the skin by cupping. This is what you are seeing. In general, the longer the cup is applied, the more likely you’ll experience dark marks. Dynamic cupping may produce fainter marks as the cup is not stationary.

What conditions does cupping therapy treat?

Cupping therapy is commonly used to treat:

  • Scar tissue
  • Muscle tension / tightness / strains
  • Myofascial dysfunction
  • Pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Aching muscles

Consult with a Physical Therapist to Learn More

Ready to experience freedom from pain? Our friendly, knowledgeable team is here to help.

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