What is Cupping?

By Sydney CBD Physiotherapist Dr Domenic Simeoni

What is cupping? How is cupping performed? What is the cupping process.? What does cupping do? What injuries can cupping be used for? In today’s blog Sydney CBD physiotherapist Dr. Domenic Simeoni answers all your questions related to a technique called cupping.

Cupping: What is it and how can it help?

            Cupping has recently become popular among many athletes all over the world, and is commonly used in physiotherapy clinics as a means to help encourage physical health. While the re-emergence of cupping is relatively new, the origins of cupping actually extend back to ancient China. Cupping has been used for generations as a way to help improve physical health and wellbeing, and due to the resurgence in popularity, you will often see athletes with the tell-tale signs of cupping on their body, circular areas that resemble bruises.

Cupping of the thigh or quadricep muscles to help with musculoskeletal pain and promote bloodflow

What exactly is cupping?

            Myofascial Cupping, or Cupping, is an ancient Chinese therapy in which a glass or plastic cup is applied to the skin with suction being applied in order to draw and hold skin in conjunction with superficial muscle tissue and fascia inside the cup. Following the application of the cup there are two methods of completing the therapy. These two options are known as static cupping, or gliding cupping.

How is cupping performed?

Acuzone cups and section gun used in cupping techqniues by physiotherapists

            Static cupping is performed by applying a cup, or combination of cups, and then allowing them to remain on the body for a set amount of time (usually between 5 to 15 minutes). During static cupping, the cups are not moved, and you will notice superficial blood being drawn to the surface of the skin where each cup is applied. The drawing of blood to the skin during static cupping is what causes the tell-tale bruising patterns after the process is completed. These bruises can last for a period of a few days up to as long as a week, and will slowly dissipate with time following the therapy.

            Gliding cupping can be performed by moving a cup, or set of cups, on the skin while the suction is active, causing the skin and underlying muscle and fascia to be pulled and stretched as the cup glides over the skin. The goal of this method is to dynamically release myofascial restrictions and tension along the length of an injured or tight muscle or body area. During gliding cupping, the practitioner will also commonly ask the patient to actively or passively bring their body through a specific range of motion, allowing for specific targeting of myofascial restrictions. 

The Cupping Process:

            In order to allow the cups to move over the skin easily, cream or oil is used on the skin before cups are placed in areas of tender or tight muscles, trigger points, and acupressure points. The cups are then moved along muscles to release layers of connective tissue, fascia, or muscle or left in one place avoiding any broken skin. Cups are generally left in place for ten minutes although the time can range from five to fifteen minutes. The skin will normally redden due to the congestion of blood flow. Once the cups are removed from the skin, circular bruising on the skin where the cup was placed is to be expected. This is a normal part of the therapy and it should not be painful.

What does cupping do?

Cupping cups placed on the lumbar spine to help with acute low back pain

            Cupping is often applied to certain acupuncture points as well as to most areas of the body that have been affected by pain or muscle and fascia tightness. The cupping process will draw blood from your vessels and into your tissue. Your body will use this blood and create a positive inflammatory response, bringing local antibodies to the area, kicking off the healing process. The cupping process has many benefits for physical health, including:

  • Stimulate blood flow
  • Help drain lymph and debris around an injury
  • Separate layers of fascia, connective tissue, or muscle
  • Release tension in tight muscles
  • Reduce muscle spasm
  • Lift and stretch myofascial tissues, separating each layer individually
  • Improve joint range of motion
  • Reduce pain around an injury

If you would like to know more about the cupping technique or trial this method ask your physio, osteo or chiro about it. They will be able to provide you with a more in-depth explanation of the technique and whether it is indicated in your situation. 

Does Cupping Hurt?

            The application of cups to aid in promoting healing for an injury should never be painful. There may be a minor “pinch” while the cups are being applied, but this is momentary and will not be present throughout the cupping process following the initial application of the cups. You should expect a feeling of minor suction or pressure under the area where the cup is applied that will gradually be released as the cup is left on throughout the process. If you do experience pain at any point in the process, make sure to inform your practitioner so that cups can be re-positioned or simply removed to avoid any undue discomfort.

Cupping can result in a bruise like mark on the skin

What injuries can cupping be useful for?

            Cupping is used to help treat a variety of musculoskeletal injuries, and when applied correctly can help to reduce healing time for many injuries and promote full recovery quickly. Cupping is useful to help treat conditions such as:

  • Lower back pain
    • Neck Pain and Shoulder pain
    • Rotator cuff injuries
    • General muscle spasm
    • Pulled muscles and strains
    • Hip pain
    • Knee pain
    • Calf and ankle pain

While cupping is not indicated for every musculoskeletal injury, it can often be a very beneficial treatment to help promote healing and physical health. The cupping process takes only a few minutes, and when applied correctly, can help to speed recovery from a variety of injures.  

Dr Domenic Simeoni Physio using spine model to explain low back pain to client
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