As a Manual Physical Therapist, I am constantly thinking about how to use my body mechanics in the most productive way for the treatment of my clients. This is also to ensure I have longevity in a career I love, and that my body can withstand the often heavy workload that is placed upon it by a physically demanding job. This has driven me to constantly update my techniques and search for tools that alleviate pain and relieve muscle tension in the most effective way.
I’m normally not a sucker (pun intended!) for gimmicks, and have to admit to previously being a little skeptical about the clinical application of suction therapy, or “Cupping” as it is more commonly known. This in turn has driven me to understand the process, benefits, and see why it is quickly becoming a popular therapy method in Singapore, Asia and beyond. Here’s a basic outline of the therapy, and its application in modern massage treatments.
What is Cupping?
Cupping originated thousands of years ago, and is one of the oldest forms of manual therapy (I’m not going to take you through its history - the internet is your library if you’re interested!). By placing a glass or a plastic cup onto the skin, the therapist creates a vacuum in the cup which draws the skin, muscle, and fascia up into the cup. This vacuum can be created with either a hand suction pump or a burning cotton wool ball. The latter is becoming less common in modern therapy due to the relative lack of control on the suction.
In Western medicine, Cupping is used as a direct clinical application. The therapist notes an area of restriction and applies the suction directly onto it to affect change. This is different to traditional Eastern methods which rely on affecting change in the line of meridians or “Qi” throughout the body. Used in conjunction with other massage treatments, Cupping is a useful tool to add into the treatment mix as it provides a different sensation and effectiveness, and thereby improving the overall results.
Cupping is used in the treatment of many types of muscle tensions, including common ailments such as neck pain, shoulder pain, tight trapezius, lower back pain, spinal congestion, and plantar fasciitis.
What does Cupping feels like?
Contrary to the commonly-held impression, the suction of the cups does not hurt. In fact, most people find the sensation very pleasant, a sort of a release. The cups can remain in position for several minutes, or the therapist can glide them over the skin similar to the movements of a massage. This negative pressure is the opposite to a deep tissue massage – a pulling versus a pushing effect.
The Benefits of Cupping
- Relaxation: suction cups provide a negative pressure on the skin, muscles, and fascia. This is in contrast to the positive pressure of the deep tissue massage, and can be a very relaxing and soothing experience.
- Promotes blood circulation speeds up muscle recovery. The negative pressure from the suction allows new blood to flow into that area of tissue with several benefits -
1. Provides a feeling of relief from physical and emotional tensions
2. Begins the healing and regeneration process - the exchange of blood allows the removal of toxins and dead cells
3. Enhances circulation
4. Warms the skin, and softens tissues to regain elasticity
5. Reduces inflammation
Useful applications of Cupping in massage therapy
1. Cupping increases the blood flow and warms the skin, which makes makes it easier for the therapist to get into the ‘knots' in your muscles.
2. Once the cup is removed, the skin relays information to the therapist about the underlying tissue. A darker patch on skin would indicate an area of restriction or adhesion in the muscles. It can then help the therapist to pinpoint exactly where to massage.
3. As Cupping is a less strenuous (but no less effective) form of therapy, it helps the therapist to prolong their ability to treat clients at a high level for a longer duration.
4. Cupping is used as part of a bespoke suite of massage treatments to improve your body’s condition, which could include deep tissue, stretch therapy, “Gua Sha” (explanation for another time!), and a combination of different techniques depending on what is needed.
Does it leave unsightly dark circles on the skin?
A good therapist will explain the potential effect of Cupping on the skin prior to treatment to get your consent. It is likely that there may be a resulting reddening of the skin directly under the cup, the colour of which depends on the health of the underlying tissue. Healthy tissues do not leave a dark circle.
The technique I use is to slowly move the cup over the soft tissue as I would in a massage, rather than leave it in one spot which is more common in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). This method is less likely to leave dark circles on the skin.
While I wish there is a better name for it, I have had great feedback and results from my clients after using Cupping Therapy, and I am now fully converted to its application!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lynsey Keyes is a UK trained massage therapist and certified in both ITEC and BTEC level 4 Massage and Anatomy and Physiology. Having spent 15 years working in high-pressure marketing roles, Lynsey embraced her ultimate passion in bodywork and uses her experience to help people overcome the physical and mental stresses of modern life.
She is a passionate believer that massage should be a part of our everyday lives to support our bodies in whatever challenge we put upon them; whether you are a professional sports person, have a sore back from carrying your baby, or simply need to release some tension from a day in the office.