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    What Is Cupping

    What Is Cupping

    What is cupping?  Is that with the glass and the fire?, or some variation of this, is probably the first question we get asked by our patients when we discuss introducing cupping to their physical therapy.

    “Cupping” is a term that is used in several professions. When most people think of cupping they usually do picture glass cups that have had the air inside them heated so that they create a vacuum when applied to the skin. This technique has its origins in ancient Eastern medicine and is still used by many practitioners in that field today. As a PT and a PTA, we don’t use glass cups and fire, instead we use a soft silicone cup and create the vacuum by compressing the air out of the cup before applying it to the skin. In our scope of practice, cupping is a form of manual therapy for trigger point and myofascial release and we use a combination of soft tissue mobilization, stretching, and negative pressure to lift, separate, and stretch underlying soft tissues.

    What do you do with it?

    Dynamic techniques involve moving the cup over the area of musculoskeletal tension or restriction in a gliding motion. Static cupping involves placing a cup directly over a trigger point or adhesion and left in place for a short time. This technique may be used in combination with “active release” movements performed by the patient when tolerated to increase effectiveness. When we introduce you to cupping for the first time, we’ll start by placing the cup on a non-painful body part and letting you see how it feels.

    How is this going to help me?

    Benefits of cupping include decreasing pain caused by soft tissue restrictions, improving scar tissue mobility and adhesions, and improved blood flow to treated areas. While other manual trigger point and myofascial release techniques such as foam rolling involve a compressive force being placed over the muscle tissue, cupping provides a decompressive force, which may be more effective for patients who are not responding to more traditional techniques.

    Will it hurt? Will I have big circles all over my body?

    Like other trigger point techniques, cupping does involve treating areas of the body which patients may note are tender or painful to the touch, so cupping may be initially uncomfortable, which is why we show you on a non-painful spot the first time. It is important to give your therapist feedback when using this technique so that they may adjust the cup position, amount of suction, cup size, or technique being used if needed. Patients may note discoloration in the treated area after cupping ranging from light red/pink to a darker purple. The greater the suction created with the cup, the more restricted the tissue, and the longer cupping is performed – whether dynamic or static – the more blood is drawn to the surface, which causes more discoloration. This will usually fade within a few days to a week, however because of this effect people with bleeding disorders or who are on anticoagulant medications are not appropriate candidates for cupping therapy. Treated areas may present with some mild soreness, however post treatment discomfort is usually temporary. Again, it is important to provide your therapist with feedback during your treatment as well as your response afterwards to ensure that cupping is an appropriate intervention for you.

    Overall, cupping is an effective addition that can be used to improve your outcomes during physical therapy with other manual techniques and exercise. For more information, reach out to Mark or Kelly at our Severna Park location 410-315-9080.