Cupping is a soft tissue technique used to help manage pain, improve mobility, promote relaxation and healing of soft tissue.
Contributed by Becca Ellis: PT, DPT, PYT-c, ERYT-200PT
1. Pain management
When cups are applied over an area of pain the suctioning lightly “lifts” the superficial layer of tissue off the free nerve endings that lie just below the skin surface. This “lift” creates a euphoric effect for the brain, alleviating pain for a moment. When we create this “pain-free” window, it opens up space for therapeutic movement without pain. We can gain range of motion, and can help people accomplish tasks that are commonly avoided because they typically cause pain. This helps train our brain that we CAN move and pain doesn’t have to stop us!
When our body is experiencing pain it can trigger the central nervous system to be “on guard”, increasing heart rate, blood pressure, releasing cortisol and causing a plethora of other non-needed protective responses. Our brains sense the threat of chronic pain the same way it senses the threat of a bear running toward us! Using cups on someone with chronic pain and associated anxieties helps create a positive neurological effect so the person doesn’t sense the pain and the system can feel “safe”. Once someone feels safe in any environment, home or in the wild, a sense of relaxation is invoked. Relaxation helps decrease heart rate rhythms, lowers blood pressure, decreases release of cortisol, and improves digestive functioning among other things!
At RTC we can couple cupping with restorative yoga to help ensure full relaxation.
3. Tissue healing
Many people associate cupping with deep red or purple circle marks on the skin. This marking happens because of an enzymatic change that occurs within the tissue during a cupping treatment. If certain areas of the body have densified or restricted tissue, or there has been some injury to the soft tissue in that area than it may appear to have darker spots after treatment. Of course, the length of time and the amount of suction will affect the color, too. The cupping creates a chemical change that brings blood flow and enzymes to the area that help to fight inflammation and aid in tissue healing. Our goal is not to get the darkest spot ever, but if a dark spot does occur know that it typically goes away with 1-3 days time.
With minimal to no side affects, this simple technique can be used during activity, at rest, and applied in a number of ways to achieve a desired effect. Sharp redness or purple color changes are not always a side effect, but is the most common one observed!