What are those marks on his skin? – A primer on Cupping Therapy

What are those marks on his skin? – A primer on Cupping Therapy


By now you have probably seen Michael Phelps win the gold medal in the 4×100 at the Olympic games. If you looked closer you might have also noticed the red circles on his right shoulder known as cupping therapy. Although this treatment has been around for thousands of years, it is recently getting more attention thanks to professional athletes and Hollywood stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston.

What is Cupping?

The act of applying a cup on the body to create a negative pressure.

How does it work?

Cupping creates a distractive force from the skin, known as Myofascial Decompression. This in turn, increases local blood circulation, relieves muscle tension, loosens and lifts connective tissue, facilitates drainage of stagnant fluids and promotes relaxation. It is often referred to as the “best form of deep tissue massage”.

Who will benefit from cupping?

Cupping has been used to treat a variety of conditions such as Bell’s palsy, acne and respiratory diseases. In my practice, I often use cupping to improve scar mobility, breakdown adhesions and treat a number of musculoskeletal conditions such as IT Band friction syndrome, calf strains and plantar fasciitis.

How is it applied?

Traditional cupping is often performed using a glass cup and fire to create a negative pressure resulting in a suction effect on the skin. More recently, companies have developed plastic and silicone cups for at-home independent use in which the vacuum is created by manual or suction pumps.

Regardless of the type of cup used, western practitioners often use 2 methods:

  1. Fixed cupping- cups are left statically on the skin for 5-10 minutes creating a distinct circular bruise that subsides within a few weeks.
  2. Moving cupping- cups are moved by the practitioner using lubricating oil

What do you feel?

The patient often experiences warmth, swelling and/or perspiration. However, some discomfort may be felt for a short period of time during the act of moving the cup or over sensitive structures such as post-operative scars.

In short, cupping is a great form of alternative medicine for both athletes and the general population that are constantly looking for methods to naturally improve their health and performance.


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