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As Michael Phelps powered the U.S. men’s 4×100 relay to gold at the Olympics, many noticed the big, purple spots dotting his right shoulder and back. The spots were bruises created by a centuries-old traditional Chinese Therapy called Cupping, and it’s all the rage among elite athletes.

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So what is it? In Cupping, a Therapist places a glass or silicone cup over the area to be treated. A pump or heat is then used to create suction inside the cup. The suction pulls hard against the skin. It takes about five minutes to apply the cups, which sit on the skin for 15 to 20 minutes. Athletes who’ve tried it say it feels like a strong pinch.

Cupping has become a trendy Therapy for athletes who want to improve their flexibility and range of motion. Many also swear that it helps their sore muscles recover after intense workouts.

Cupping creates suction, or negative pressure, which lifts the skin and other tissues. Therapists who use it with their clients believe the negative pressure improves blood flow to the area and speeds recovery.

Where did Cupping come from? Is it a new thing?

Cupping originated in China and is a common practice that’s been used across Europe, the Middle East, China and Africa for centuries.

Cupping is very interesting because it’s the opposite of how Massage is practiced. With Massage, you use pressure to push down. With Cupping, we’re trying to pull the muscle up. You want to pull the fascia, the lining of the muscle, up as well to separate the fascia and soft tissue from the muscle so it can relax and move easily.

The vacuum the cup creates causes a lot of blood to come into that area, and that presumably, affects the muscles and tissues underneath there. If you’re achy and you do it afterwards, you usually feel like you had a deep Massage.

Although the bruising may look painful it is not painful at all. What it does is pull the blood to the area. The more pain people have in one specific area of the body, the darker the color gets. As you continue to do Cupping, the next time there’s less and less color. After 4 or 5 sessions, there should be little or no color change. It means the muscle is pretty relaxed. Most people say it feels really good.

Some athletes do it on a daily basis for muscle pain. It has become one of elite athlete’s favorite techniques. Anytime you have muscle spasm, muscle tension or pain, you can use it. It decreases pain, improves mobility and also kind of improves the healing process.

History of Cupping

Sometimes it takes a worldwide event like the Olympics to remind us of ancient ways of healing!

The Therapy of Cupping has been used in China for thousands of years. At first it was applied using cattle horns or cross sections of bamboo. To create negative pressure inside the horn or bamboo, these ancient “cups” were boiled in water or fire was ignited to expel the air and suck the cups onto the skin. These cups were used mostly to draw out pus and blood in the treatment of boils. Cupping was originally used as an auxiliary method in traditional Chinese surgery. Later it was found to be useful in treating other diseases and developed into a special Therapeutic method.

The earliest record of Cupping is in the Bo Shu (an ancient book written on silk), which was discovered in a tomb of the Han Dynasty. Several other ancient texts mention Chinese medicinal Cupping. Several centuries later another famous medical classic, Su Sen Liang Fang, recorded an effective cure for chronic cough and the successful treatment of poisonous snake bites using Cupping Therapy.

Through several thousand years of accumulated clinical experience, the clinical applications of Cupping have become increasingly widespread. Now Chinese medicinal Cupping is used to treat arthritic symptoms, asthma, the common cold, chronic cough, indigestion problems and some skin conditions.

In mainland China the development of Cupping Therapy has been rapid. In the 1950’s, the clinical efficacy of Cupping was confirmed by the co-research of China and Acupuncturists from the former Soviet Union, and was established as an official Therapeutic practice in hospitals all over China.

Today, as more people (including Michael Phelps) seek alternative Therapies to deal with their health and training issues, the use of traditional Chinese medicine, including Cupping, is increasing. Much of the Cupping equipment and methods used today are exactly the same as they were in ancient times. Some electronic or mechanized pumps have been invented, and suction cups introduced, but to a great extent the majority of people practicing Cupping today still use horn, bamboo or glass cups. One reason that Cupping techniques remain the same as in ancient times is due to the fact that with the exception of a handful of Acupuncture practitioners, Cupping is generally practiced in rural areas where no or very little modern medicine is available.

Cupping affects the flow of Qi and blood. It helps draw out and eliminate pathogenic factors such as wind, cold, damp and heat. Cupping also moves Qi and blood and opens the pores of the skin, thus precipitating the removal of pathogens through the skin itself.

To experience Cupping yourself, visit one of our clinics and book an appointment with one of our Massage Therapists. You can give Rebecca Yin, RMT, a call at our Beddington location at 403.800.3373.  She would be happy to help you find balance, clear energy blockages and get you moving faster and feeling better!

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