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Hey Suckers: How cupping can improve yours and my performance

As a manual therapist I am constantly concerned with ensuring that I perform at my best for my clients, whilst also using my own body mechanics in the best possible way to ensure longevity in a career that I love.

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.

...Enter Cupping or Suction Therapy

I’m not normally a sucker for a gimmick and have to admit to previously being a little skeptical about the clinical application of Cupping. So this in turn has driven me to understand the process, its benefits and why it is becoming such a popular (trendy?) therapy, in Singapore, Asia and globally. So here I will give you a basic rundown of the practice and my take outs.

What is Cupping?

cupping therapy
Suction cups relieving pain

Cupping originated thousands of years ago, and is one of the oldest forms of manual therapy (I’m not going to take you through history, google will provide you with that elsewhere if you’re interested!). By placing a glass or plastic cup onto the skin the therapist will create a vacuum 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. Much to the delight of many clients…!

What does it feel like?

Contrary to a common first impression, the suction does not hurt. Most people find it a pleasant sensation, a sort of release. The cups can remain in position for several minutes, or the therapist can glide them over the skin similar to how you would massage. This negative pressure is the opposite to a deep tissue massage – a pulling versus a pushing effect.

Benefits of Cupping

1. Suction Cups provide a negative pressure on the skin/muscles/fascia v the positive pressure you get with deep tissue massage, which some people find a very relaxing sensation

2. This negative pressure or suction, allows new blood to flow into that area of tissue with several benefits: 

- Provides a feeling of relief from physical tension and emotional tension

- Begins the healing and regeneration process - the exchange of blood allows the removal of toxins and dead cells

- Enhances circulation

- Warms the skin

- Softens tissues, to regain elasticity

- Reduces inflammation

3. In Western medicine, Cupping is used as a direct clinical application, that is, the therapist notes an area of restriction and will apply the suction directly to 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

4. It’s a useful tool to add into the treatment mix because it provides a different sensation for the client and thus different results

What conditions is Cupping useful for?

Treating many types of muscle tension including; neck pain, shoulder pain, tight trapezius, lower back pain, spinal congestion, plantar fasciitis

There are useful applications for the Therapist also:

1. The warm skin, due to the increased blood flow, makes it easier for the therapist to get into ‘knots'

2. Once the cup is removed, the skin relays information to the therapist about the underlying tissue - usually indicating with a darker patch where there is a restriction or adhesion. I can then pinpoint exactly where to massage 

3. My technique 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

4. Using suction cups helps the therapist by offering a less strenuous form of therapy therefore prolonging their ability to treat clients at a higher level for longer

5. Importantly I use the cups as part of a bespoke massage session. My sessions could include deep tissue, stretch therapy, cupping, Gua Sha (explanation for another time!) and usually a combination of different techniques depending on what is needed on that particular body. 

And what about those dark circles?

Marks from cupping therapy
Not bruises, but oxygenated blood clearing stagnation

A good therapist will explain the potential effect on the skin prior to treatment and gain 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 tissue, does not leave a dark circle.

Keen to give it a try?

I have had great feedback and great results from Cupping Therapy on my clients and am fully converted to its application. If you are interested to see how it can help you, then get in touch.

…I do still kind of wish there was a better name for it though!

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