By Alecia Good, Med, ATC
Cupping therapy is an ancient soft tissue massage technique where the practitioner will put vacuum-like cups on the skin to create suction. It has benefits including decreasing inflammation and pain while increasing blood flow and relaxation. It can be used before or after participation with wet or dry techniques depending on the desired effects.
I personally use cupping to help decrease scar tissue and inflammation after injury. I will place a small amount of lotion on the skin, create a comfortable amount of suction with the cupping device, and move the cup around the affected area. Athletes find this soft tissue massage to be more comfortable and effective than traditional effleurage massage techniques, plus it saves my hands from the extra effort. I will occasionally leave the cup on a “tight area” or trigger point but will warn the athlete that it may leave a red mark like a light bruise. I am careful with this practice though because I do not want to cause more tissue damage or pain long-term. Resources say that a practitioner can leave the cup in one spot with suction up to three minutes, but thirty seconds to one minute is long enough for me.
The inexpensive plastic cupping device I use has met my needs; traditionally cups can be made of glass, silicone, bamboo, or earthenware. Some of the traditional techniques use fire, but the rubber pump on my cupping device is just effective and much safer. My cupping tool has magnets that came with it, but I have not included them in my practice.