Cupping for Gold: Olympians Covered in Spots!

If you’ve been watching the 2016 Olympics, you’ve probably seen several athletes with large, dark purple, circles on their bodies. The commentators have tried to explain these marks, but frankly, haven’t done a great job.  So I thought I would shed some light on this treatment techniques that swimmers, gymnasts, cyclists, volleyball players, and others are using to keep themselves in top shape for their Olympic games.

You may have hears this technique called “cupping.” This is an ancient form of treatment that is documented back to Egypt, India, and China in ancient writing and hieroglyphs.  The ancient technique involves heating the air inside a glass cup/bell and then placing it on the skin. This causes a vacuum effect and the skin is sucked up into the cup.  Cups were placed to help increase circulation, improve immune system response, and even to rid the body of demons. Occasionally, small incisions were placed in the skin prior to the cup and the blood was sucked out to help clear congestion in the circulatory system.

Modern Cupping is a little different. In physical therapy, it is used to help decompress tissues, improve circulation, correct muscle imbalances, and promote healing response.  Rather than using fire to heat the inside of the cup, a pneumatic cup is used. This allows for greater control of the amount of decompression of the tissues, less risk of burns and blistering, and the ability to move while the cups are in place.

 Michael Phelps at the 2016 Mens 4x100 Free Relay sporting purple marks from therapeutic cupping.

Michael Phelps at the 2016 Mens 4x100 Free Relay sporting purple marks from therapeutic cupping.

If you look at Michael Phelps right shoulder blade,  you will see cup marks located over each of the muscles that helps to control the shoulder blade and arm, including the upper trapezius, rhomboids, deltoids, and rotator cuff.  Repetitive strain on the shoulder from the high level of swimming Phelps performs on a daily basis can lead to micro-trauma. This can lead to inflammation, the laying down of scar tissue, and pain. The shoulder is known to be prone to knots and low circulation. The cups placed here help to increase circulation, promoting healing and faster recovery, while eliminating pain and the substitutions that occur when muscles are tight.

 Modern Cups use a pneumatic system to have better control over the amount of decompression and reduced risks of burns and blisters.

Modern Cups use a pneumatic system to have better control over the amount of decompression and reduced risks of burns and blisters.

I have been using therapeutic cupping, or myofascial decompression therapy, for nearly 3 years in my practice.  This treatment is effective for neck and shoulder pain, low back pain, ITBand tightness, hip and knee pain, and pretty much all muscle strains. I have successfully used it to help improve flexibility, improve movement patterns and muscle activation, and speed recovery time from muscle injuries.

If you would like to explore how the use of therapeutic cupping can help you, please contact me today for a free consultation!