Chronic Pain, Wellness

FYI: Myofascial Cupping 101

Myofascial cupping is a therapeutic technique derived from ancient chinese therapeutics used thousands of years ago.

It also resembles someone post octopus attack, and has been spotted (no pun intended) on many high level athletes. Similarly to how Kinesiotape (we’ll discuss this next time!) became mainstream after it was seen on a few olympic athletes, cupping has become increasingly popular in the therapeutics realm.

How does it work?

Cupping works in a “negative pressure” style. When we think of most therapeutic treatments or modalities, the goal is generally to increase (or decrease) circulation, change tissue temperature, use friction, pressure, or tissue movement to do the first two things, realign soft tissues, and change the nervous system’s perception of an area. One of the most common modalities, massage, works in a positive pressure style. That being, the practitioner is applying pressure to the area to increase circulation, temperature, create soft tissue change and affect the brain’s perception of the area.

In cupping, cups are applied with suction to draw the layers of tissue apart, allowing circulation to rise from the bottom up through the different layers of tissues (think muscle, lymphatic vessels, facial tissue and connective tissues). The suction helps to create heat, and is a modality that has been shown to be effective in releasing fascial and tissue tightness, scar tissue, and increasing lymphatic drainage.

As a practitioner, I find that myofasical cupping will get deeper than my hands can when it comes to releasing certain types of tissue trauma and tightness. I use cupping to assist in the treatment of arthritis, all sorts of soft tissue injuries, back pain, and chronic injuries (that broken rib you had years ago that still bugs you, or that ankle that just doesn’t move right, or the knee that you tore a ligament in years ago and still have issues with). I also have body builder clients who love cupping as it relaxes the fascial binding around muscle groups, which allow their muscles to “pop” more. Of course, like all modalities, it comes with some risk. Those with vericose veins should avoid cupping directly over the area, and it should be used with caution (and by an experienced professional) with individuals dealing with an acute stage injury, spinal injuries, and those with hypermobility disorders.

In the clinic I find it extremely beneficial with clients working with arthritic joints. Knees and shoulders specifically seem to respond very well to the addition of myofascial cupping to their rehab plan, and many with back pain often find it helps to calm down the acute levels of pain. Myofascial Cupping can also be used to stimulate acupressure points for a more holistic style of treatment, if the practitioners is trained in the meridians of the body. I have seen it used to treat digestion troubles, menstrual cramping/pain (which is not normal!!!), stress and anxiety, and insomnia. More often then not, the structural release will also help with some of these conditions- as the body is all one big dynamic system. It is important to take a big picture approach when treating any condition, physical or otherwise.

As with any modality- it is a tool to be used in the process of returning someone to being able to move without pain- and a stepping stone on the pain to rehabilitative and preventative movement and lifestyle practices. It should not be used as a bandaid or a quick fix for pain/dysfunction.

Clients are often put off by the circular bruise like marks cupping leaves, but majority of the time those marks are not painful nor are they technically bruises. Rather they are titled “ecchymosis”, which is basically the technical term for a hickey. Another common misconception is that cupping breaks blood vessels. Cupping does not break blood vessels, in most cases, the marks are left because the circulation is drawn to the surface underneath the circular cup. Rarely are vessels actually damaged or broken. If we look at the ancient chinese style of cupping, some pracitioners still provide “wet cupping” which involves blood letting, as well as hot cupping or fire cupping- in which the practitioner creates suction by heating hte cup with a flame before it is applied. Majority of soft tissue practitioners will use a suction gun to suck the air out of the cup, and wet cupping and fire cupping aren’t as common.

Cupping is an effective modality for a variety of conditions, and from someone in the industry I can tell you that it is worth the hickeys. As always, cupping isn’t a one stop fix. All treatments or modalities should be accompanied by a preventative exercise and wellness program. Before attempting cupping, check in with the practitioner about the risks and where they took their certification.

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