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Cupping, is it only for Olympic champions?

Most of you noticed those large, dark circles on several of the athletes during the Rio Olympic Games. Since it was mostly observed on our swimmers, like Michael Phelps, one might think they are sharing pool time with the Kraken or maybe partaking in some cage fighting while in Brazil. Luckily for our Olympians, it is neither, but rather an extremely effective soft tissue technique that has been around for thousands of years. Cupping is commonly used to increase blood flow, release fascial adhesions, decrease pain, improve range of motion, and more.

Cupping is performed by placing glass, plastic, silicone, or bamboo cups onto the skin and creating a vacuum within the cup. This can be done by heat, suction, or pump, with the end result having the underlying tissue pulled partially into the cup. The cups remain in place for a period of time, commonly 10 minutes, and once the treatment is done the suction is released and the cup is removed. Treatment can consist of only one cup or dozens, depending on the area the patient is having treated.

Although those nice, purple circles may be alarming to some, they only last a few days to a week. This type of cupping should not be painful, but it can be uncomfortable on certain parts of the body. Great care should be used by the practitioner to ensure the patient is no “in pain.” The two most common types of cupping are fixedand movingFixed cupping is as it sounds, the cups are applied and left in place for a set period of time. Moving cupping is almost like a massage as the cups are applied with a lubricant on the skin and then moved over the body while attached.

How can cupping be used? As a Western Medicine practitioner, cupping is used as an adjunct to other forms of treatment, meaning it is usually not the single means of treatment for a specific ailment. Cupping is used to promote blood flow in specific areas of the body speeding recovery. It helps break down micro scars or adhesions allowing tissues to move independently of one another along with stretching and mobilization of the skin and underlying tissues. Cupping also increases the flow of lymphatic fluid. Cups are known to help with back and joint pain, help with circulation issues, provide relief with other types of muscle pain and may even help with that unsightly cellulite.

For those Eastern Medicine practitioners, along with the uses listed above, cupping is claimed to remove toxins, stimulate Qi, help with flu, cough, colds, anxiety, allergies, fever, skin issues, and a myriad of other symptoms. Cupping is not limited to Chinese Medicine. History has shown versions of cupping in Greece, Asia, Europe, and the United States by early Americans.

While it is true that cupping can work wonders, it is not to be used by everyone. Patients who bleed or bruise easily, are on blood thinners, those who have skin ulcers or eruptions, should use caution and inform their doctor before cupping is used. Pregnant women should avoid cupping for the most part and never allow cups to be used on the low back or abdomen.

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