You’ve seen those big red dots on many Olympic athletes this past summer in Rio, but what exactly are these circular bruises and where did they come from? This trendy recovery technique is known as cupping, and it has actually been around for hundreds of years as a part of ancient Eastern medicine. The bruises appear when glass or plastic cups are placed on the skin. As the air is trapped between the cup and the skin, it creates suction against the skin. The suction causes small blood vessels under the skin to break, creating the cup-shaped bruise in some cases. While the bruises give the appearance of pain, many of my clients have rarely felt that the cup was on their skin once it is placed and it is actually a relaxing sensation.
Many of my clients, especially those who are athletes, use cupping as a recovery tool since it is excellent at stimulating blood flow to an area. As blood flow increases within vessels and capillaries, tissues receive much-needed nutrients and oxygen. This therapy can be done on anyone, from an Olympic athlete to a sixty year old desk worker suffering from back pain and stiffness. The marks don’t look pretty, but the pulling action that the cups create engages the parasympathetic nervous system, allowing a deep relaxation to move through the entire body. It is not unusual for my clients to actually fall asleep when receiving this treatment.
This deep relaxation response is thought to help relieve the stagnation of blood and energy throughout the body, especially on a specific problem spot. People feel relief when they suffer from acute pain in a muscle or tension from sitting too long at work in front of a computer, hunched over, walking too long in shoes that do not provide the proper support, or not being able to keep good posture during the day. After the cup has been left on for five to ten minutes, most patients feel immediate relief and feel looser with increased ranges of motion. By releasing tissues deep inside the body and relaxing tense muscles, conditions such as chronic back pain, neck pain, migraines, and rheumatism can be improved. For athletes, cupping therapy can naturally improve performance and reduce stiffness, cramps, joint paints, and scar tissues caused by injuries.