Cupping therapy is a form of manual therapy that has historically be used in the realm of alternative medicine. This technique involves placing cups made of glass, plastic, or silicone directly on the skin to create suction. The vacuum effect can be created either using suction or heat, this will draw the underlying tissue into the cup. This suction is believed to help release tension in the muscles, stimulate the flow of blood and nutrients to the tissues, and promote overall healing and relaxation.
In physical therapy, cupping may be used as part of a larger treatment plan to help address issues such as chronic pain, inflammation, and muscle stiffness. Cupping can treat a multitude of different musculoskeletal complaints such as back, neck, shoulder or leg pain. It is often used in conjunction with other manual therapies, such as massage or mobilization techniques, as well as exercises and stretches to help strengthen and rehabilitate the affected area. Cupping can be performed for injuries, overuse pain, mobilizing scars and to aid in recovery.
In a physical therapy session, multiple cups of varying sizes can be applied to an area that has been identified to have mobility restrictions or pain. Typically, the cups are left on for 5-10 minutes while the patient stays still. The initial application of the cups can be uncomfortable but usually becomes more tolerable after a few minutes. The cups can be glided throughout the tight area to create a more dynamic stretch and increase blood flow. The physical therapist will often have the patient perform dynamic stretches or exercises, such as squats or heel raises, with the cups on to further mobilize the tight tissues. This technique can leave the skin with suction marks, usually temporary redness but occasionally can leave a bruise.
Cupping therapy is different from other massage techniques in that it is decompressive in nature. Many other massage/mobilization techniques apply pressure down into the tissue whereas cupping lifts and mobilizes the different soft tissue layers. The negative pressure of the suction helps increase blood flow, lymphatic drainage and mobilize soft tissue restrictions.
Cupping therapy may also be used to help improve athletic performance by increasing circulation and oxygenation to the muscles, which can help reduce fatigue and speed up recovery time between workouts. Cupping can be applied to a regular mobility program to help obtain further stretch on tissues to enhance overall performance and potentially help with injury prevention. Overall, cupping therapy is used as a therapeutic tool to supplement a more comprehensive physical therapy program including mobility, stabilization and strengthening exercises specific to each patient.