What’s the Deal with Cupping?

Michael Phelps sported curiously uniform, circular bruises during the 2016 Olympics, bringing the ancient practice of cupping in front of mainstream eyes. And, if you are a current or past patient of Presidio Sport & Medicine, there’s a chance you’ve had the treatment as well.

Our Physical Therapist and Mill Valley Clinic Director, Sarah Elsen, MPT, ART®, and Massage Therapist, Katy Kunkle, LMT, offered their insights on how our clinic utilizes cupping for our clients’ maintenance and recovery.

What conditions benefit from this treatment?

  • Strains
  • Sprains
  • Excess scar tissue
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle guarding, i.e. muscles activated to protect an injured joint, therefore inhibiting normal range of motion

How do we utilize “cupping” in our physical therapy services?

Myofascial Decompression (MFD), is Western medicine’s equivalent to the Traditional Chinese Medicine treatment known as “cupping”. While most soft tissue techniques compress the tissues, such as massage or Graston Technique®, the suction from the cup lifts the different fascial layers and the muscle up, bending and stretching the tissues around the rim. The device will feel tight when it has been applied, but the therapist can adjust the suction to better accommodate the comfort level of the patient.

This treatment will help increase range of motion, correct compensatory movement inefficiencies, and increase blood flow to the soft tissue structure.

How is Myofascial Decompression used in our massage services?

In massage therapy, Katy uses cupping to gently separate the tissues, which allows her to provide a deeper massage to that area. She uses a more gentle approach than MFD intended for a physical therapy session, since the area will then be subject to massage work. Katy may also move the client’s extremities through relaxed, passive motions in conjunction with the cupping during the massage session, whereas the physical therapist may ask a client to actively move the body part.

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