The Truth about Cupping

Russian doping, Simone Biles, Ryan Lochte: all hot topics that are still being discussed from the Rio Olympics. But no topic is more popular than cupping. Cupping became a house hold phrase over night when Michael Phelps walked out with purple welts all over his long shimmering body. People now are dying to find out more about this hot "new" technique.

Cupping is actually an ancient technique originating in China over 200 years ago (any Amazing Race fans would know that). The believe is that the placement and suction of the cups brings blood to the area which helps treat muscle spasm. Along with pain, it has been used to treat respiratory disease, high blood pressure and stroke.

A study from 2012 looked at all the cupping research since 2003 and compared the results. These studies compared efficacy of cupping with acupuncture, soft tissue massage and medications. The studies all varied in treatment time and number of subjects. What they found was that cupping was effective in pain relief but it was just as effective as any other interventions.

A more recent study from 2016 compared the effects of cupping, instrument-assisted soft tissue and manual tripper point release. There were 70 athletes that were randomly assigned a treatment type. Their pain was assessed before and after the treatment. All 3 groups felt a significant decrease in pain when compared to the country's group (no intervention at all).

Does cupping work? Probably. Is it for everyone? No. Cupping can be very painful and if a patient can not tolerate it or can not relax during the treatment, it can be more harmful than helpful. There are other ways you can achieve the same effects with less pain (and bruising).

Cao H, Li X, Liu J. An Updated review of the efficacy of cupping therapy. PLoS ONE. February 2012. 7(2)e31793.

Fousekis A, et. Al. Effectiveness of Instrument-assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization Technique (Ergonomic Technique), Cupping & Ischaemic Pressure Techniques in the Treatment of Amateur Athletes' Myofascial Trigger Points. Journal of Novel Physiotherapies. 2016,S3:009

Kathleen Leninger, PT, DPT, NY Custom PT & Performance 295 Madison Avenue #1026 New York, NY 10017 212-682-7860