Cupping therapy, although part of ancient Chinese medicine, was thrust into the limelight during the Rio Olympics. Although many of the athletes were being treated with cups, the American swimmers came out with circular red and purple marks which were visible on their skin. The announcers were obsessed with pointing out what the marks were and trying to explain the benefits of such treatment. New stories popped up on the internet claiming cupping was “pseudoscience”, “superstition”, and just the “latest fad” with pictures showing horrific burns. So what gives?
Let’s start by talking about what cupping therapy is. Cupping therapy involves placing a cup, which can be made out of different material ranging from plastic to glass. The general premise involves placing negative pressure under the cup forming suction. This can be achieved again through various means, but the most common is by a pump or by heating up the cup with fire just before placing on the skin. Although lighting something on fire is definitely more dramatic than adding a couple pulls to a plastic pump, I just don’t see the additional benefit of risking catching the clinic on fire, so I choose the plastic pump. Next, just as needling can be termed wet (with medication) or dry (without medication), cupping can be termed wet or dry. Wet cupping involves a form of bloodletting (cutting the skin and applying suction over the wound to suck out the bad, stagnant blood)-WHAT!?!? Umm no, no, no. Don’t get me wrong, if it works for you, great, but for some reason the “do no harm” vow that we take as medical professionals somehow feels broken when you slice open your patient just to watch them bleed. So let’s move on the the type of cupping that I perform, the dry version.
Dry cupping again does NOT involve bleeding as a primary goal. The suction under the cup is thought to have many benefits, including: stretching tissue and fascia, increasing circulation and healing, and reducing pain just to name a few. The main reason I use cupping is for the stretching tissue effect, think of it like a deep tissue massage with much less time and effort. Where massage attempts to push through the layers to stretch the body, lengthening the tissue similar to rolling out dough with a roller, cupping pulls the tissue upward into the cup taking out the slack and providing a stretch (see pic above). The range of motion and flexibility gains after a simple treatment of cupping can be immediate and quite noticeable. Cupping techniques can vary according to the goal of treatment, but can involve simply placing the cups on the body and removing, moving the cups around once they are in place, or performing movements with your body while the cups are in place.
So about the marks that the cups leave. They look like absolute torture right? So what does cupping feel like and how about those marks after treatment? When the cups are in place, think of an intense/effective stretch in the area targeted and then once the cups are removed, you tend to feel an immediate improvement in ease of movement and range of motion. The marks produced following may be a little sore to push on, but generally are not painful. They actually look much worse than they feel, with the patient not realizing they are even there after the treatment unless viewed. So prior to cupping, make sure you aren’t attending a wedding in a strapless dress and getting your neck/shoulders cupped!
So why should I come to have cupping treatments performed with you instead of purchasing the $30 kits off Amazon and performing myself? First, when cupping is performed without training, serious bodily harm can occur if performed incorrectly! Also, just as with many other treatments, cupping is part of an overall treatment plan. Are the results permanent alone, probably not. After starting with a proper assessment, cupping can be combined with dry needling, stretching, or strengthening activities to target not only the symptom but the source. This is how you see results come your way. Do I have you interested……
Often I’m asked, why did you become a physical
therapist? I did not grow up thinking I always wanted to be a physical therapist, in fact like most kids, I was fascinated with planes and a pilot was probably what I said the most. As a son of a father who is an engineer, I did know what I didn’t want to be. You see, I was a hyper kid growing up, one that could never sit still, and the thought of sitting behind a desk at a computer in an office for 40 hours per week seemed dreadful.
My father has dealt with low back pain and leg pain as far as I can remember. Frequently as a child, he asked me to walk on his back to try to help with his pain or he had mom massage his legs because of muscle spasms. He began having significant difficulty walking across the room, which led to his back surgery. It was hard for me growing up seeing him wanting to be involved in the games of baseball or basketball in the backyard, but either hurting too bad to attempt it or if he did, being laid up for a week recovering. I began going to his physical therapy appointments with him and quickly learned this is what I wanted to “do when I grow up.”
The post I linked above is of major importance to me. Reading it alone is powerful, but looking deeper into the meaning is where I think it truly hits home. Often people thank me for “fixing” them, but I don’t view myself as a fixer or that I have this remarkable “gift”, I see myself as very passionate about what I do and like every physical therapist I like to help help people reach their goals. Sure there are treatments that require me doing something to you, but all in all, it’s just a step in the process of teaching you how to return to the things you want to do. A step to get me out of the picture and allow you to manage your symptoms or get rid of them all together. I want to get you back to spending more time and energy toward the ones you love or the things you love. It all comes back to why I got into therapy, helping dads get back to playing with kids in the backyard or kids returning to the sport they love.
If you think I can help you reach your goals...
Maybe you have back pain and are considering a technique called dry needling, but you’re not really sure what that means or what a treatment might entail. All you’ve heard was a co-worker raving about the relief they obtained after a treatment and that made you interested. You have tried other treatments….rest, medication, imaging, possibly physical therapy, or the dreaded I’m going to fix myself looking up things on the internet… (sticking with the OH MY theme on the blog), but your symptoms are still there. Let’s discuss more about dry needling.
Dry needling is a technique which uses solid filiform needles, which are often called acupuncture needles. This needle is designed for one time use and is usually a very thin stainless steel. Confusion usually creeps in over the fact that dry needling uses acupuncture needles. It’s important to point out acupuncture and dry needling are completely different, they both use the same needles but the location and purpose is vastly different. Acupuncture is generally based on qi, an energy form that travels in the body along meridians and treatment is attempting to rebalance this energy. Dry needling is based on scientific knowledge and anatomy which attempts to treat pain and trigger points by releasing the body’s natural hormones and chemicals. The term “dry” comes from the fact that the needle does not contain medication. Dry needling treatments vary depending on the desired effect, but may vary from a quick in and out of the needle to leaving multiple needles in up to 30 minutes. Electrical stimulation can be used to enhance the effect in many cases. I know, hooking up electricity via alligator clips to needles stuck in my body!?! WHOA, I don’t know if I signed up for this right? Most people have had electrical stimulation or even TENS treatments if you’ve experienced pain in the past. When receiving these treatments, you are using the same electrical current, but instead of needles you are using a sticky electrode that goes on the surface of the body. Where higher levels of electricity are needed to get through the layers of tissue when using an electrode, the electricity needed to stimulate a needle is MUCH less because it’s located directly in the effected structure. It’s the equivalent of watering the entire yard with a sprinkler hoping to hit the flower bed, when you can take a watering can and directly water the flowers. Much better results in less time! Treatments can result in significant pain relief and muscle relaxation, which when combined with the proper exercise can yield large gains. Large gains allow you to return quicker to THE THINGS YOU WANT TO DO! Do I have you excited yet?
Ryan Goodman is owner of Goodman Performance Therapy LLC and the Team Physical Therapist for the Columbus Blue Jackets with experience in Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Injuries.