When it comes to treating patients, physical therapists have an arsenal of tools at their fingertips. In addition to physical movements, exercises, and stretches, your physical therapist may recommend other treatments and/or tools that will aid in recovery. Each of the physical therapy tools we will explore in this series have different purposes. It’s always best to consult with your health care professional before trying any of these treatments on your own.
History shows us that cupping therapy has been popular in Chinese, Egyptian, and Middle Eastern cultures going back thousands of years. Much like the popularity of Kinesiology Taping (link), increasing numbers of people worldwide have been adopting it.
Cupping can be used with or instead of more traditional hands-on techniques. One of the benefits of cupping versus traditional hands-on treatment is that they allow for movement. The therapist can move the cups around to treat a larger area, or the patient can move the joint or muscle with the cup attached to provide more prolonged benefits.
As with many alternative therapies, keep in mind that there haven’t been extensive studies performed without bias to fully assess its true effectiveness.
What is Cupping Therapy and How Does it Work?
It’s commonly known that cupping therapy is an ancient Chinese alternative medicine. While it’s not completely clear when cupping therapy started, it’s believed to have first been practiced in the early 300’s.
In cupping therapy, cups are placed on or around the affected area of the body and air is pulled out of the cup either with suction or heat, resulting in the skin under the cup to be raised.
The vacuum-like suction separates different layers of tissues triggering an inflammatory response, flooding the area with white blood cells, platelets, and other healing aids. It’s believed that cupping increases blood circulation to the area where the cups are placed. This may relieve muscle tension, which can improve overall blood flow and promote cell repair. It may also help form new connective tissues and create new blood vessels in the tissue.
Though there are two types of cupping (wet and dry), we perform the dry, suction-only method in our clinics.
When is Cupping Therapy Used in Treatment?
Cupping can be used for most patients who would benefit from soft tissue mobilization. Anyone experiencing painful or tight muscles may benefit from cupping as a way to reduce their pain and improve their mobility. We typically use cupping to improve your tolerance to exercises, or to your specific activities that brought you to physical therapy.
Cups are in place for 1to 10minutes. Mild bruising or other marks are likely to occur but usually go away within a week or so. Cupping therapy can be painful. In addition to the bruising and skin irritation, one may also experience sweating or nausea during treatment.
As with any treatment considered an “alternative therapy,” it is meant to be used in conjunction with your current therapy, not as a substitute or replacement. The addition of cupping to strengthening, posture training, and activity modification will not only get you feeling better but make sure you are getting the maximal carry over too.
When should it be Avoided?
People on blood thinners should not use cupping therapy. Anyone that has a sunburn, a skin ulcer, an internal organ disorder, or bruises from a previous cupping therapy session should also avoid cupping. Cupping is not used on people with a known active infection or open wound.
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***The above information, including text, images, and all other materials, is provided for educational purposes only, and not as a replacement or supplement to professional medical advice. Please contact a certified healthcare professional or your primary physician for any personal concerns.