If you’ve watched the 2016 Summer Olympic games in Rio you have probably noticed a few athletes, including 19-time Olympic gold medal winner Michael Phelps, with large red marks on their skin. These marks are the result of cupping therapy, an alternative therapeutic method that is popular in traditional Chinese medicine.
Cupping therapy uses either an air pump or heat to create suction between the cup and the skin, pulling the skin slightly up and away from the underlying muscles. One way to think about cupping is that it is the opposite of massage. Instead of applying pressure to muscles, cupping pulls the skin, fascia and muscles upward. This is an amazing way to get a deep form of myofascial release in a way hands on massage can not provide.
While athletes at the summer games are using cupping as a recovery tool, it can have other benefits as well!
Cupping pulls blood to a region being treated which stimulates healing and reduces inflammation. It’s especially effective for people who have tight fascia and muscles and limited range of motion, which is why so many athletes have turned to this form of therapy. When suction is created, impurities are pulled to the surface of the skin. Once these impurities are drawn out, fresh blood with new nutrients and oxygen can now reclaim it’s territory. This allows for healthy circulation to be restored to the affected area, creating space for living cells and nutrients, which aids to a faster recovery.
Another benefit of cupping is that it releases toxins. Like we said above, the suction is pulling impurities from your body. With this toxins from the liver, kidneys, skin, intestines and lungs are also expelled from the body. Just like getting a massage, it’s incredibly important to drink water after a treatment so the toxins can exit your body.
Like massage, cupping can be incredibly relaxing. Pressure is adjustable, so if you desire you can just take it easy and relax. The first few minutes can be rather intense though, especially your first time or you are particularly tight. Remember to breath through it and drink plenty of water after a cupping session.
So next time you're in, please let me know if you’re interested in trying cupping therapy… It won’t make you win a gold medal but it might make you feel a little better.