Cupping: Not just for Olympic Champions

Fiona McMahon, DPT , PT

Cupping

If you are like most Americans, you have probably heard a lot about “cupping” because of Olympian, Michael Phelps. Phelps has been seen tearing it up in Rio with purple hickey-like spots all over his back. Like kinesiotape in London and Beijing, cupping has become the new hot thing for top level athletes.

We, at Beyond Basics Physical therapy have been using cupping in our treatment of patients for a while now. Our aim is to improve athletic and recreational performance, and the mobility of restricted (or stuck) tissues to help the tissues function better and lessen our patients’ pain.

In our practice, we use cupping as an extension of our hands to help tissue that has been immobile secondary to injury or disuse, to regain its’ optimum mobility. By improving mobility, cupping can help to reduce painful pulling on tissue, improve blood flow, and reduce dysfunction around the adhered area.

In our practice we find that cupping can be particularly helpful in treating old surgical scars, such as cesarean section scars, to reduce painful pulling and disruption of the function of nearby organs and muscles. We also like to use cupping on notoriously tight and troublesome structures like the iliotibial band to help with conditions like runner’s knee.

Cupping is like any treatment modality, it is not a magical cure that will immediately banish all your ills. Cupping is a tool used by therapists and acupuncturists in conjunction with other treatment modalities to correct any other underlying factors that may be contributing to a patient’s condition. It may not turn you into an Olympian like Michael, put in conjunction with a skilled physical therapy program it can help you feel a whole lot better.