what is cupping therapy?

What Is Cupping Therapy? | 2 Main Kinds – Static Cupping & Massage Cupping

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What is cupping therapy?

Within recent years, cupping therapy has received some spotlight attention due to appearances on the big screen. The most notable  was Michael Phelps competing in the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympic Games, who appeared to have “purple spots” all over his back.

Although cupping therapy has become a staple for many athletes to help with recovery, it can also be used in a physical rehabilitation setting to provide pain relief and increase range of motion.

So, back to the main point, what is cupping therapy?

Used in a medical setting at South Pointe Physical Rehab, we explain cupping therapy to our patients as a form of myofascial decompression or release. If you can imagine the different layers of tissue in your body that are present from your outer skin all the way down to the bone, these individual layers should be able to glide along one another without any restrictions or tension.

This restriction free movement of the layers is what should be happening if your bodies tissue is functioning properly, but this is not always the case.

Sometimes these different layers can become “stuck”, in bad cases even forming adhesions. The sticking of these layers of skin causes a dysfunction in the mobility of tissues, eventually causing abnormal stresses where the soft tissue is attached, which causes disruption in your bodies natural movement – a decrease in mobility.

This is where cupping therapy comes into play.

When cupping is utilized correctly, the cups act on the layers of tissue and decompress them. This causes any points that were “stuck” to move freely again. The decompression of these layers in the tissue also creates the potential for your bodies natural global healing responses, through influencing fluid and neurological responses.

What should I expect when receiving cupping therapy?

South Pointe Physical Rehab is lucky to have several in house cupping therapy experts, such as Sierra Weyerman (LMT). In the video below, Sierra shares some more details about cupping therapy, and shows us what to expect if cupping therapy treatment lines up with your pain symptoms and recovery goals.

Sierra also highlights some of the key differences between the two main kinds of cupping therapy, which are static cupping and massage cupping. Each type has different attributes that may be helpful in reducing pain, depending on the individual patient!

“Hi, I’m Sierra Weyerman and I am a massage therapist here at South Pointe Physical Rehab. Today, I’m going to show you a little bit about cupping and how I do it.

First, I’m just going to kind of work through the tissues, get a feel for what tissues, what tissues are targets, areas that need the most attention and between the shoulders is a very common place for attention and tightness.

So I’m going to show you some cupping through the shoulder girdle. Dr. Wright here is having quite a bit of tension and his rhomboids and mid trap. So, I’m going to do a little massage upping through here. What we want to do is keep the area pretty lubricated with the lotion so that it’s easy going.

I’m going to take the cup and stick it on to the skin. It creates sort of a vacuum that pulls the layers of the muscle and connective tissue apart, bringing up those adhesions. And then I’m going to try and cut through the tissue and start slow, see and feel what’s going on. What area the cup moves most freely, and what areas it likes to stop at, those are the tighter areas.

We can go back and forth and switch up the movements. Sometimes it comes up, I just stick it back on.

And just to get through breaking up all of the adhesion.

And there is also what we call static cupping, so we can stick it onto an area of tightness or pain or trigger points, that we feel like needs increased attention so Dr .Wright here has a pretty good knot, or trigger point right in here. So I can just stick it on there and get a good amount of suction and make sure he’s comfortable with the amount of suction and leave it there for anywhere from three to 10 minutes. You kind of want to keep it in a maximum of 10 minutes just to keep the tissues healthy and make sure we’re not overdoing it.

What this does is it increases blood flow to a very specific area. This increase in blood flow, helps your muscles and tight muscles because it triggers the healing properties, the natural healing properties and lubrication into the muscles and tissues surrounding tissues to help them move more freely and decreasing pain symptoms.”

What are the benefits of cupping therapy?

Cupping experts classify the benefits of cupping therapy into three main categories: Fluid, Mechanical, and Neuro-chemical.

Mechanical Effects

Due to the suction that the cup creates on the skin and other layers of tissue, it creates mechanical stress which improves the ability for these layers to glide by one another. This effects the body from the skin all the way down to ligaments and organ structures. This is great for pain mitigation and is achieved by using movement of cups along the body, such as methods like “massage cupping”. 

Reduce chronic Pain

Improve Fluid Flow

Decompress Tissue

Increase Mobility

Fluid Effects

As the layers of tissue become decompressed, it creates space between them which effects the fluid content between the different layers of tissues. This increases the ability for these differently layers to glide freely, and directly improves blood-flow.

This effect is great for patients who due to certain conditions may not be able to tolerate the pressure from traditional massage techniques, but still would benefit from the blood flow effects of cupping.

Neuro-chemical Effects

Modern day medicine understands that chronic pain over time causes a disruption in the way that your body reacts to areas where pain symptoms are felt. When chronic pain is not addressed, over time this results in a “blind spot” that can decrease motor control functions and movement patterns.

By using methods of treatment such as cupping therapy, this helps improve your bodies sensory map which results in decreased pain and increased motor control.

What are the different types of cupping therapy?

Yes! The three most common types of cupping therapy performed are: Static Cupping, Massage Cupping, and Fire Cupping. At South Pointe Physical Rehab, our providers focus on static cupping and massage cupping – this is due to the potential for negative side effects associated with fire cupping that are not present with the other forms.

Static Cupping

Static cupping is the most common form of cupping therapy, which presents the purple or red circles after treatment. This form of cupping can be utilized when the patient presents signs of specific areas of tightness or pain, often referred to as trigger points.

"I am trying to get a good amount of suction and make sure [the patient] is comfortable with the amount of suction, and it is left on the skin anywhere from 3 to 10 minutes. We want to make sure to keep it on for a maximum of 10 minutes to keep the tissues healthy. What this does is it increases the blood flow to a very specific area [...] which helps tight muscles by triggering natural healing properties, resulting in increased range of functional movement and decreased pain symptoms"

Sierra Weyerman LMT - Quote From Cupping Demonstration Video

Massage Cupping

Massage cupping differs from static cupping because the cup is not left in a single position, rather it is moved across the patients skin. 

This method of cupping therapy is awesome for breaking up tissue adhesions across larger areas.

"[The cup] creates a vacumm that pulls the layers of muscle and connective tissue apart, bringing up the adhesions. I am going to cut through the tissue starting slowly, to see and feel what is going on. I pay attention to what area the cup moves most freely, and what areas it likes to stop at, those are the tighter areas. I go back and forth through the area breaking up all of the adhesion."

Sierra Weyerman LMT - Quote From Cupping Demonstration Video

Is cupping therapy right for me?

Now that your questions have been answered about “what is cupping therapy?”, you are probably wondering if this treatment is right for you.

As you now know, cupping therapy is highly effective in reducing pain symptoms caused by trigger points and adhesion within the tissue, resulting in increased blood flow and range of motion.

Even if you are not currently experiencing pain symptoms, cupping therapy can be utilized to maintain healthy blood flow and function movement, especially in athletes.

When being treated at South Pointe Physical Rehab, every patient is addressed on an individual basis and examined to see which treatments are viable and would be the most effective. We recommend scheduling an appointment in which our doctors will go over you medical history and goals to determine if this treatment is right for you or not.

If you are wanting to make an appointment, please call us at (303) 665-8444 or schedule an appointment online through our easy to use appointment portal.

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