Therapeutic Cupping / Tissue Distraction

Michael_Phelps_conquista_20ª_medalha_de_ouro_e_é_ovacionado_1036413-09082016-_mg_6336_01At the 2016 Rio Olympics, athletes and especially swimmers Michael Phelps and Dana Vollmer were seen to have numerous notable purple-red spots on their shoulders, upper and lower backs. It was identified that these marks are the byproduct of a treatment the athletes received call “cupping”.

The theory behind cupping is that like massage therapy it increases local circulation, improves lymphatic flow, releases scar tissue and trigger points, and relaxes muscle.

Despite the practice of therapeutic cupping dating back to the Egyptians, ancient Greece and being in use throughout South East Asia since the 4th century, there is scant research indicating that it may be effective for reducing musculoskeletal pain. Nonetheless, top NFL players and numerous Olympians rely on this modality both during training and competition.

At present, the working hypothesis for integrating cupping into treatment sessions is that the suctioning of the cups, when matched with movement results in the distraction force on tissues (e.g. muscle, fascia) adding another dimension and direction to stretching. The hypothesis is that this multi directional stretching lengthens and loosens tissues further than if stretched in only one direction at a time.DSC01821

The cups used are made of soft silicone, are easily applied and released from the skin, and when used in conjunction with a moisturizer, glide smoothly across skin allowing for entire lengths of muscles, full tracts of nerves, and fascial compartments to be lengthened, mobilized or as commonly referred to as ‘released’.

It must be noted that therapeutic cupping or tissue distraction is not for everyone.  Patients with diseases of the blood, the skin, with systematic inflammatory conditions, infections, swelling and severe health issues should not receive this form of intervention.  Before cupping can be applied to anyone, a review of medical conditions and a physical assessment are required to ensure that the therapy is appropriate.

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Many medical doctors believe that cupping (perhaps wet cupping which involves blood letting more so than dry cupping) is nothing more than pure hokum, utter non-sense.

It is fair to say that there is little medical research proving that dry therapeutic cupping works, but to dismiss it without application of common sense is equally pure hokum. Lets not forget that medicine revolved entirely around the use of leeches as cure-all for many many years.

Consider Newton’s third law of motion which states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Since massage therapy applies compression forces to tissue, it thereby generates equal and opposite reactive forces of tissue expansion.  Along these lines, therapeutic cupping is the inverse of massage therapy as the suction of the cup pulls on tissue, expanding, distracting tissue and thereby generating an equal and opposite reactive force of compression. The corollary must be that if massage therapy is considered a legitimate form of treatment (which it is), cupping should be considered an equally legitimate form of treatment simply because the basic laws of physics do not and cannot discriminate. Therefore, medicine may accurately state that there is insufficient research to back cupping, but simple physics proves that there is no objective difference between massage and cupping.

Physical laws rule the universe and supercede medicine, therefore to write cupping of as nonsense is itself nonsense.