Cupping has been plastered all over the media since the Olympics; since many athletes were spotted (pun intended) with the indicative circular bruises on their bodies. I’ve had many patients asking about cupping since then and I’m sure many more are wondering about it. So here is a little bit about why we Myotherapists use cupping vs the traditional use of cupping as seen in Chinese Medicine for example.
Old School (traditional) Cupping
Yes I called it old school. In some cultures such as Greek, Chinese and some Middle Eastern and Asian countries cupping was traditionally used to get rid of colds and other respiratory illnesses. Some still use it today. They believe the cups move ‘stagnant blood’ and get the lymphatic system going and increase the flow of chi or qi (energy). One of my old house mates use to swear by it. He’d always ask me to cup his back when he had a cold, and he’d wake up the next day feeling great. Placebo I’m guessing, but I love placebo, so I’m not about to knock it. He thought is was going to work, and it did. Anyway back to cupping, we can save the placebo chat for another day. The only problem I have with traditional cupping, is many practitioners and people using it at home still use the old method of – alcohol swabbed around the inside of a glass, light it and then stick it to the skins surface which deprives the fire of oxygen, thus the fire goes out and at the same time causes suction. This method is outdated and if done incorrectly it can be dangerous. I have had several patients scared of cupping after ending up with burns and infections that have left scars on their bodies; not cool! There are now plastic and glass cups that you can use together with a suction pump to control the level of suction and best of all, no fire!
How we use cupping here at Waverley Myotherapy Clinic
I can’t speak for all Myotherapists, because I have no idea what training they have had or ideals they have formed about cupping so, I am speaking about how we use cupping here at Waverley Myotherapy Clinic. Here we use plastic cups with a suction pump. There is 2 ways we will use cupping. Stationary and Active Cupping.
Active cupping is where we apply oil first, put some suction into the cup and move it around over the painful area. We use this when the overlying fascia is restricting us getting into the muscle efficiently. Fascia seems to responds better to suction over pressure. I have seen some theories on this about the fascia lifting up away from the muscle and breaking any adhesion between the 2 layers; other than some really cool YouTube clips I don’t think this has been researched yet.
Static cupping is where we put a cup on and leave it for approximately 30-60 seconds. We may passively move a body part in conjunction with this to create a stretching sensation. We use this method when active cupping is too painful or on certain areas where moving the cup won’t work because the body area is too small or too awkward to move a cup around.
From my continually developing understanding of the nervous system I’d say the effect of both methods actually has more to do with the interaction between the sensations and the nervous system than anything occurring at a local tissue level. I now believe that cupping is another method in which a practitioner can create ‘safe’ signals between the brain and the local tissues. The brain decides that everything is okay and instructs the nervous system to relax the tissues around the area. Have you ever experienced holding a stretch for a lengthened period of time and then all of a sudden it gives in and you can move a little further into the stretch? This is a similar response. Our brains are in control of everything! Research around the area of neuro-plasticity and how big of a role the brain and nervous system play in pain is steaming ahead so watch this space!