There’s been a lot of press coverage about the cupping treatment that some of the Olympic athletes have undergone. There are the ‘againsts’ – the medical practitioners who don’t rate the treatment – and the ‘fors’ – the athletes, celebrities and holistic therapists who have evidence that it makes a difference.
Members of Team US have been seen with circular marks caused by cupping therapy. Their therapists use it to help the sites of old soft tissue injuries to recover and become flexible. It also prevents the build-up of tension, which can lead to adhesions and tears.
There are two types of injuries:
- Those caused by direct trauma or accident
- Those caused by repeated movements or overuse.
Athletes, as fit as they are, are prone to the latter because they spend many hours practising the same movements over and over again to perfect their performance and win medals!!
Athletes say they use cupping to ease aches and pains and to help with recovery from the physical toil of constant training and competing – although there are no scientifically proven benefits.
Cupping is an ancient Chinese technique, it is related to acupuncture. Traditionally a flammable liquid is lit inside a glass cup that is then applied to the skin. The flame burns away the oxygen in the cup, which creates a vacuum. Once the flame goes out, the vacuum creates suction which sticks the cup to the body. There is a slight risk of mild burns with this technique, but like all treatments it can be highly effective in the hands of an expert.
I use silicone cups when I use cupping as part of my treatments. These cups do not require a heated flammable liquid and come in different sizes to be effective on different parts of the body. For example, the smallest cup is particularly useful for joint problems and the larger ones can release tension in the lower back and shoulder blades.
Rather than just sticking them on the body I use movement cupping. This can either mean moving the cups placed on the body or assisting the client to move the joint to help reduce pain and improve range of motion.
Cupping can be described as the inverse of massage. Rather than apply massage to muscles, the suction uses pressure to pull skin, fascia (connective tissue) and muscles part way into the cup. I t is believed that this procedure brings blood and lymph to the area along with fresh oxygen and nutrients. In this way toxins are released and blockages cleared and promoting healing to take place.
The treatment is particularly effective in relieving pressure on constricted tendons. In addition it will break down adhesions between the skin and underlying fascia allowing for the release of trigger points (which cause pain) and enabling freer movement.
Cupping is known to leave marks indicating that stagnant blood has moved to the surface allowing fresh oxygenated blood to nourish and heal the underlying layers. The marks are not bruises; the colour and pattern of these marks is a sign of the level of stagnation in the area. The darker the mark left by the cup, the poorer the blood circulation is in that part of the body.
As well as the Olympic athletes, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston are just two of the well-known celebrities who have been photographed with cup marks.
You don’t have to be an athlete or a celebrity to benefit from cupping therapy; the idea is to help the flow of energy – known in traditional Chinese medicine as ‘qi’ – around the body. This restores its equilibrium – and if the flow of energy around the body is good then generally we feel so much better.