“Cupping” for athletic performance 

Every Olympics I see a wave of excitement and interest in new techniques in physical therapy and sports rehab. In  prior summer Olympics we saw Kinesiotape adorned over the shoulders and knees of pro volleyball players and cyclists. Immediately every patient in my practice began asking me: Is this the same tape you’re using on me too?

 Little did they know kinesiotape had been around years before the Olympics made it popular. Kinesiotape still remains one of my preferred approaches to treat many postural and joint dysfunctions.

Now with the last Rio Olympics we saw the renewed interest in “cupping” or Myofascial Decompression as we call it in Physical Therapy.  MFD is also a wonderful and hugely successful tool I employ in PT for a variety of impairments. Cupping in its original incarnation has been around hundreds of years before Michael Phelps had his shoulders treated in these past Olympics.

So what is cupping ? What is the purpose of these huge bruises on the body? “Cupping” as most people know it, or MFD, essentially uses the suction of a cup, sometimes glass or plastic, to help restore mobility to tissue. It is not the same techniques or reasoning as with traditional cupping seen in Acupuncture. While MFD has its background in traditional cupping, the underlying premise is different. Both have merits in my opinion, but both have different end point therapeutic goals and are used quite differently.

Cupping has been dated back to Chinese Taoist alchemists as far as 281 A.D. Other cultures such as Egyptians, Native American, Mexican American curanderos have employed similar cupping devices in their practice.  Cupping is believed by many to help to cleanse and pull out impurities. Alternatively used to rid the body of toxins, release tension, help with sleep , GI disturbances, the list goes on. The methodology is vast and varied and depends on where and how it is practiced.

In modern day Myofascial decompression, or MFD, we are using it primarily to restore normal mobility in the fascia, connective tissue, and help muscles move better. MFD works in the decompression of adhesions, allowing more flow for nutrients to surrounding tissue. MFD can help with scar tissue mobility, help to nourish the underlying fascia, help to unload tension on tissue and abate trigger points and “knots” in the muscle belly of spasm’d muscles.

Is MFD the cure all? Definitely not. I employ it often in my practice, but it is definitely a more aggressive technique and patients with more fragile skin and other integumentary issues are not good candidates. MFD is also quite strong, borderline painful in certain areas. Not appropriate for all clients or patients. When I do use it, overworked neck and shoulder muscles, tonic and tight mid back or low back muscles, tight IT bands, I have found it incredibly helpful to help get tissue moving. 

MFD works because our bodies are not as linear, push -pull agonist antagonist as people assume. The fascia and connective tissue runs all along our bodies, crossing multiple muscle groups and joints in multi directions. In the real world, muscles and fascia functionally pull us in multiple directions, we are dynamic and hydrated tissue creating a functional kinetic chain.




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