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What is Cupping?

Updated: Nov 14, 2022

Have you ever seen weird circular bruising marks on someone's shoulder and thought, “What the heck is that?” Or maybe you’ve heard of cupping, but aren’t quite sure what it is. Well, you are in the right spot! Today we are going to cover all things cupping so that you can be informed on what it is, how it can help you, and what to expect from it. Let’s dive in.

Cupping originated in ancient Egyptian and Chinese medicine but has been recently adapted to a more anatomy based and modernized approach. Although there are different types of cupping, the most frequently used in the physical therapy world is known as dry cupping. During a cupping session a circular, cup like object is placed on the skin and a suction force is created. Cups can be slid across the skin or kept in place for 1-5mins. The suction is used to help decrease muscle tension and pain.

How can it help me?

Cupping makes its biggest impact on tight muscles. Whether you are dealing with a chronically tight upper trapezius or muscle spasms from a recent injury, cupping can help to decrease muscle tightness by increasing blood flow to the area.

Cupping can help increase your range of motion. If your motion is limited due to a muscle restriction, cupping can help to increase blood flow and therefore elasticity of the tissues allowing you to move further into your range of motion.

Cupping can also help decrease pain associated with tight muscles. Whether your muscles are sore from a recent workout or you have pain in your back due to muscle spasms, cupping can help decrease the pain that tight muscles can cause.

How Does it work?

Cupping works by creating a suction force against the skin. This suction causes a few different things to occur within the body. One major effect is the localized increase in blood flow to the area. Increased blood flow results in decreased tightness, increased healing response and increased elasticity to the tissues.

This suction created by cupping has also been shown to have a neurophysiological effect on the body. This means the suction force created during cupping can help decrease pain by downregulating the pain receptors that send pain signals to the brain. Cupping's neurophysiological effect also helps to create relaxation and stimulate the release of endogenous opioids which also help in pain reduction.

Does it hurt?

Cupping typically doesn’t hurt and has more of a relaxing effect on the tissues involved. The suction created by cupping can feel a little uncomfortable at times, but the amount of suction can typically be scaled to your tolerance.

What can I expect after?

Cupping can leave circular marks on the skin due to the increased blood flow to the area. These marks can feel similar to a bruise at times, but other times you may have marks but feel no lingering soreness. The marks typically go away in 4-10 days depending on skin type. Some skin types may not experience any kind of marking.

What should I do after being cupped?

Cupping is most effective when combined with active movements following the treatment. Cupping is great but it will not cure you, rather, it will help you gain access to the movements that will.

But there you have it, a few answers to some of the common questions that we get regarding cupping. Cupping is a safe and effective modality for many musculoskeletal conditions but it definitely is not the end all be all. If you have any other questions be sure to let us know.

If you’re in the Phoenix area and thinking of getting cupping done, give us a call and let one of our providers help you down the road to recovery.

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