The 411 on Cupping as Treatment for Sore Muscles

What is cupping? 

Cupping is an ancient form of holistic alternative medicine.  It is a treatment method that was initially  used to help treat internal diseases and structural problems.  Its popularity over the years has increased as people have seen celebrities and athletes “sporting” the common circular bruising pattern that occurs after a cupping session. 

How is cupping used in physical therapy or massage?

 It can be used for pain relief, musculoskeletal injuries, strains, sprains and back injuries.

Application of cupping during physical therapy: 

A glass or plastic cup is placed on the skin in areas of restriction or soreness.  The air from the cup is expelled via burning or suction.  Expelling the air inside the cup creates a negative pressure which anchors the cup to the area being treated.  The suction encourages blood flow to the area, and an increase in circulation may promote healing and decrease pain.  

While there are different ways to perform cupping, the technique I have found to be beneficial for my patients is myofascial dynamic cupping or sliding cupping.  Before cupping is started a layer of oil or cream is placed over the cupping sites.  The cup is then pulled and pushed along areas that have a broad area, smooth skin and large muscle groups such as the back, buttocks, thighs and other areas.

Myofascial dynamic cupping lifts the skin, fascia and muscle apart causing a decompression and increased space for tissue mobility.  It can break down small adhesions.  It can target tissues and improve gliding to help improve tissue mobility and range of motion.  This technique can work well on  lumbar/thoracic paraspinals, quadriceps, hamstrings, Iiliotibial band, and gastrocnemius musculature.

Is cupping right for you?

This type of treatment has been around for thousands of years. While opinions can vary on its efficacy some of the key take aways are it’s safe to try and can be complimentary to an existing treatment plan such as trigger point dry needling

Benefits of cupping:

-release scar tissue and fascial adhesions

-reduce painful trigger points

-improve blood and lymph circulation

-relieve pain

-promote mobility and range of motion

-decrease toxins by drawing impurities to the surface 

Side effects-  bruising skin, irritation


-active cancer

-acute injury with bruising


-inflamed or swollen areas

-open wounds

-fractured bones

-complete tears of ligaments or tendons

If you’re interested in cupping treatment for your sore muscles, our licensed massage therapists are ready to help!

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