July 17, 2018
Health & Fitness
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What The Cups?

Samantha Shaver
Samantha Shaver's picture
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August 23, 2017

If you watched Baltimore native Michael Phelps swim in last summer’s Olympic Games, you’re probably familiar with those circular markings seen on his shoulders prior to a big race. The big question of 2016 was without a doubt, “What in the world did Michael Phelps do?” The answer is simple: cupping therapy.

Until recently, the traditional Chinese medicine known as “cupping therapy” was as foreign as the country it derived from. For more than 2,000 years, cupping therapy has been used to relieve nagging aches and pains throughout the body. How can a few plastic cups hold that much power? Let’s dive in and explore the therapeutic effects of cupping therapy.

When performing dry cupping therapy, the practitioner places a cup on the surface of the skin, typically over an area the patient identifies as painful, and produces low air pressure through an air-pumping tool. This creates a suction effect, pulling the skin, muscle and other superficial tissues up into the cup. Typically, the cup is left on for five to 10 minutes, depending on patient tolerance. In that time, a number of physiological benefits are happening just below the surface of the bubble that has since formed.

You may notice the skin turning an intriguing shade of red or purple, but that isn’t necessarily a bad sign. Cupping therapy increases circulation and nutrient-packed blood flow to the involved areas — which is vital to tissue healing — while pulling out old, stagnant, useless blood that’s been taking up space for quite some time. This process typically results in the dark, round bruises that made this alternative medicine famous in the past year. In addition to improving blood flow to the affected areas, the cups can also have a stretching effect on the tight band of connective tissue covering muscles to further relieve pain and stiffness.

While dry cupping is typically most common in physical therapy clinics, there is also a variation called wet cupping. Wet cupping involves a small incision in the skin with a cup placed overtop and creating the same suction effect mentioned above. This method pulls blood into the cup and results in the same benefits as dry cupping. Even more interesting is the belief, in Asian cultures, that this method actually removes harmful toxins from the body.

Cupping therapy has been used to treat numerous common diagnoses including, but not limited to, chronic low back pain, neck and shoulder pain, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, plantar fasciitis and other soft tissue injuries, as well as to relieve post-surgical pain. Although Pivot Physical Therapy leaves the wet cupping to the experts overseas, dry cupping has been highly successful among its patients. The positive effects have been felt shortly after the cups were removed, with patients often reporting less pain and stiffness. While Pivot can’t promise this form of holistic treatment will transform you into an Olympic gold medalist, there is still time to give it a whirl before the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics. For more information, call 844-748-6878 or visit www.pivotphysicaltherapy.com.

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