What’s Up with Cupping Therapy Used By Olympians?


Photo: © sylv1rob1 Deposit Photos

Many athletes competing in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio have been seen with circular bruises. What’s up with that? Tattoos? Hickeys? Deep tissue massage gone wrong? No, it’s from a massage therapy technique called cupping. Robert Turner, physical therapist and manager at the Spine Therapy Center at Hospital for Special Surgery explains.

While Cupping Therapy has made recent headlines, it’s actually a treatment that has been around for centuries. Whether you are an elite level athlete or if you just like to maintain an active lifestyle, it’s important to do your research and be fully aware of what’s involved.

What is Cupping Therapy?

Cupping Therapy is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that’s used to treat musculoskeletal injuries. Using large or small suction cups, it is a vacuum-pressure technique that brings stale, congested blood to the surface, which creates greater circulation of the blood within deep tissue areas. Toxins are then flushed from injured tissue, which help reduce inflammation. While it may look (and sound) painful, it isn’t at all and for some can feel like a relaxing massage.

What types of therapy are available?

There are two different options you may explore. The first option involves basic suction cups where a lubricant is placed on the skin in order to serve as a seal around the cup.

The second option is to use fire cups, which is where a cotton ball soaked in alcohol is burned for a few seconds inside the cup and placed on the skin, which vacuums the desired area into the cup as it cools.

The cups may then be slid over a larger area pulling the tissues up into the cup for a larger treatment area. The option that is chosen ultimately depends on the person treating you.

If he or she is a trained acupuncturist or is involved in alternative or oriental medicine, they will be more likely to recommend the use of fire cups.

How long does each session take? How long is treatment needed for?

Typically each treatment session lasts 30-60 minutes depending on how many points of the body you are having treated. It is possible to come back for treatment the next day as long as it’s for a different location of the body, otherwise you are likely to come back for another treatment one-to-two weeks later when your skin shows signs of resolution of the redness.

What are the benefits of this treatment?

You’ll immediately feel less discomfort and greater mobility. For best results, cupping therapy should be part of a larger performance plan, which would include stretching and other exercises in addition to the cupping treatment.

What are the side effects of Cupping Therapy?

It’s likely that your skin will form red or purple marks, called Sha, which can last for several weeks and appear like a bruise as well as a little inflammation in the treatment zone.

Where should you go to seek treatment? What types of professionals perform this treatment?

These types of treatments may be found in an acupuncturist’s office most typically and at some massage therapy or alternative health care clinics. There are also physical therapists who are acupuncturists that offer a combination therapy of Eastern and Western techniques.

Robert Turner is a physical therapist and the Manager at the Spine Therapy Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. He is an APTA certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist, Acupuncturist and Oriental Medicine Specialist as well as a Pilates Rehabilitation Specialist certified through The Pilates Method Alliance. For more information: Integrative Care Center.
This article was provided by and used with permission by Hospital For Special Surgery.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Subscribe to Healthy Aging® Magazine

The Premier Lifestyle Magazine for All Ages

Receive four digital issues delivered to your inbox. Just $24.95