What Is Cupping And Why You Should Know About It

With the 2016 Summer Olympics coming to an end, many viewers were wondering what those perfectly round bruises were on many of the athletes. Michael Phelps has been a prominent athlete in the media for both his talent and cupping marks during the Rio Olympics, and he can be seen with red and purple circular bruises located along his shoulders, arms, and back.

Cupping was first recorded in 1550 BCE by Egyptians who believed it would rid the body of foreign matter and toxins, and has since become popular tool for healing in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)5. Cupping works by lifting the layers of tissues underneath the cup through suction and negative pressure. Cups of varying sizes and materials are placed over a problematic area for up to 15 minutes, and the suction is created through an air pump or heat.  Cupping can be static, where the cups are placed over one localized area, or they can be dynamic and glided across the skin with the use of a lubricant. There are many proposed mechanisms by which cupping works; however it is evident that it leads to increased blood flow to the area, hence the creation of bruises. By increasing blood flow, cupping can help facilitate cellular repair, tissue recovery, and angiogenesis, which is the development of new blood vessels. Other theories propose effects on the body’s immune system, gate control theory of pain, increases in lymph flow, and “decompression” of collagen and fibrosis within and surrounding the tissue1,6.

Cupping is a useful tool for Olympians who train year round and are required to perform at an exceptional level.  It is understood that if an athlete has movement restrictions, it can significantly impact their performance.  Adhesions in the utilized tissues are formed through training and can lead to compensatory movement patterns and inefficiencies. By decompressing the layers of tissues and addressing these adhesions, cupping can help restore both normal and adequate movement patterns1. Cupping is also appropriate in targeting musculoskeletal pain in the average person. Research has shown improvements following cupping in pain, function, and quality of life in individuals who suffer from neck pain2,3, low back pain4, knee OA7, cancer pain, trigeminal neuralgia, carpal tunnel, and arm pain2,6.

If you are suffering from pain or you are an athlete who would like to optimize their performance, cupping therapy may be an appropriate tool. PT’s and PTA’s can use cupping and will decide if you can benefit from the effects of cupping therapy.

Cupping Camillus 2

For more information ask for physical therapist or refer to:




  1. Daprato, C. (n.d.). Myofascial decompression. Retrieved August 11, 2016, from http://www.cuptherapy.com/
  2. Kim JI, Lee, M.S., Lee, D.H., Boddy, K., and Ernst, E. Cupping for treating pain: a systematic review.Evid. Based Complement. Altern. Med. eCAM. 2011; 2011: 467014.
  3. Lauche R, Crmaer, H., Choi, K.E., Rampp, T., Saha, F.J., Dobos, G.J., and Musial, F. The influence of a series of five dry cupping treatments on pain and mechanical thresholds in patients with chronic non-specific neck pain–a randomised controlled pilot study. BMC Complement. Altern. Med. 2011; 11: 63.
  4. Markowski A, Sanford S, Pikowski J, Fauvell D, Cimino D, Caplan S. A pilot study analyzing the effects of Chinese cupping as an adjunct treatment for patients with subacute low back pain on relieving pain, improving range of motion, and improving function. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.). Feb 2014;20(2):113-117.
  5. Nickel, J.C. Management of urinary tract infections: historical perspective and current strategies: part 2-modern management. J. Urol. 2005; 173: 27–32
  6. Rozenfeld E, Kalichman L. New is the well-forgotten old: The use of dry cupping in musculoskeletal medicine. Journal of bodywork and movement therapies. Jan 2016;20(1):173-178.
  7. Teut M, Kaiser, S., Ortiz, M., ROll, S., Binting, S., WIllich, S.N., and Brinkhaus, B. Pulsatile dry cupping in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee – a randomized controlled exploratory trial. BMC Complement. Altern. Med. 2012; 12: 184.