Many manual therapy techniques you may have seen in physical therapy offices are compressive in nature. Myofascial decompression (MFD) cupping uses negative pressure to lift the skin up and obtain the opposite effect. In recent years, it has gained more popularity due to star athletes and celebrities such as Michael Phelps, Steph Curry, Conor McGregor, and Jennifer Aniston.

What to expect during a cupping session?

If it is determined that your body’s aches and pains can be attributed to soft tissue restrictions, your therapist may perform cupping. The therapist would first massage to find areas of tightness or trigger points. From there, they will choose the appropriate cup sizes and use a pump to create a suction. The cups will be static for a few minutes before being glided across the muscle fibers with activation of the targeted muscle simultaneously.

What is happening beneath the cup?

When your body is injured, a reflex mechanism is set off and the muscles tighten, which causes decreased blood flow to muscles. Then, with increased tightness in the muscles, the body is unable to transmit blood efficiently to not only supply the muscles with oxygen and nutrients, but to take away waste from muscles. In this hypoxic state, the muscles will begin to ache and this pain will cause your body to, again, guard and maintain this vicious cycle of tightness and pain.  At this point, MFD cupping can be used to essentially “re-start” the blood flow cycle and improve microcirculation that the muscles desperately need.

During the suction, or vacuum seal, the skin rises into the cup and your blood vessels dilate (vasodilation). When this occurs, they begin to leak leaving a bruise behind. Under stress and with vasodilation, temperature in the tissue rises causing decreased adhesions between tissue.  At the same time, this causes improvements in fascial gliding which is important as fascia is a connective tissue surrounding all muscles.

It is also believed that cupping increases lactate levels and the acidity in skeletal muscles. This acidity combats muscle fatigue and these metabolic changes provide short-term pain relief which can facilitate long term improvements when used in conjunction with other physical therapy methods.

Will cupping fix me?

Just like all physical therapy manual interventions, cupping should not be considered the “end all, be all” solution to your body aches and pains. Instead, it should be viewed as an additional tool that helps us come a step closer to returning you back to performing and feeling your best!

Written by: Maritza Correa

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