Rio Athletes are into Cupping – So what is it?

Cupping is a part of ancient heritage in many different traditions and widely practiced as a part of Chinese medicine. Cupping works in an opposite way to massage. Massage applies pressure to the skin and the muscles to affect an area, cupping applies suction to the skin and tissues to stretch them upwards.

How does cupping work?

Glass or plastic jars are placed on the skin, the air is sucked out mechanically or with heat which creates a vacuum within the cup and applied directly on selective points or areas of concern. Despite its visual appearance application, it feels very pleasant with no pain but a sense of release. The purpose of the cupping is to enhance circulation, remove toxins, provide pain relief and clear inflammation, all of which may be lingering in your body’s tissues.

In Chinese Medicine we use appropriate variations of cupping (stationary or sliding) to encourage the flow of energy through the tendons and muscular channels, through the associated channels, and through the skin and underlying fascia. In Chinese medicine we compare the body as a bamboo branch where the young one bends and stretches but the old one cannot bend easily and can break ( a tight or injured muscle can create inflammatory complications causing pain).

When our energy stagnates our muscles tighten, and when muscles tighten that means they have shortened, converting aerobic respiration to anerobic for their nutritional and oxygen demands. The problem is that anerobic respiration (Kreb’s Cycle) has as its waste product, lactic acid that forms crystals that then irritate the fascia and muscles. Muscles work by shortening and lengthening and particularly during exercise their performance is challenged requiring good stretching.

There is some interesting research confirming cupping analgesic and beneficial therapeutic outcomes: