A physical therapist utilizes a rubber pump and a plastic cup to create a vacuum on the skin. It causes the skin to rise and the blood vessels to expand, improving blood flow to the injured or painful area. This treatment is sometimes paired with gentle movement of the affected area in order to restore soft tissue and myofascial tissue range of motion with decreased pain. Sometimes, silicone cups are used to create a massage effect or to improve soft tissue or scar movement.
Why Cupping Therapy Is Done
Physical therapists may sometimes use cupping as a technique of tissue distraction release. The cups are glided across different areas to lift and separate tissue. It enhances the release of the interfaces between the neural tissues, fascia, skin, ligaments, muscles and tendons. Some patients with myofascial pain report resolution of pain after just one session. There is also some evidence to suggest that cupping techniques are effective for chronic neck pain, low back pain and fibromyalgia. It has also been shown to relax muscles, release trigger points, improve lymphatic flow, increase local circulation, improve range of motion, and release scar tissue adhesion.
Cupping therapy is popular among athletes. Numerous athletes from the Olympics in Rio 2016 used cupping. An athlete patient with over a year history of iliotibial band (ITB) pain reported instant relief following a three minute session of cupping. The technique was repeated a week later. Following only two cupping sessions, he was symptom free and returned to his usual running. What can we learn? Cupping therapy may potentially be more effective than techniques that focus on further compressing down on soft-tissues that are hypothesized to be tight.
There’s real science behind cupping therapy. By creating suction with negative pressure, it can increase hydration and blood to body tissues, ease up adhesions, rid excess fluids and eliminate connective tissue issues. It’s a versatile treatment and can be modified from deep tissue release to lymphatic drainage. This modality is sometimes used in physical therapy and medical massage.
Cupping should not be performed on skin sites with wounds, infection, burns or active inflammation. Sometimes, it can create bruises on the skin that can last up to two weeks. Bruises typically resolve themselves with time.