Could cupping help you heal faster? - Kinetic Edge Physical Therapy
by Cassie Houtz, PTA

Cupping has been around for thousands of years, though the form and types of cups used have varied.  Today, you may have seen athletes in your local community or on TV with circular, purple bruises.  Those are cupping marks! (You don’t always bruise during cupping but it can happen depending on different factors.) If you aren’t familiar with cupping, it is when you use a specific type of cup made of glass, hard plastic, or silicone, to apply negative pressure to the skin, fascia and muscle under the skin and help with healing or recovery. It can also be called by a technical name, myofascial decompression.

How does it work?

Cupping works by creating suction and pulling different layers of tissue up into the cup.  Most cups have a valve at the top and we attach a pump to pull out some of the air.  Depending on how strong we cause the suction to be, it can pull skin, fascia, and muscle up into the cup.  This can do a variety of things depending on where and how it is applied.  It can increase blood flow and bring more healing nutrients to a specific spot.  Sometimes the increase in blood flow can create a temporary bruise from blood pooling, but it doesn’t normally hurt like a bruise. Cupping can break up adhesions, which create tightness in the skin or fascia (the layer between your skin and muscle), that occur from poor healing.  It can help loosen scars on the surface of the skin, and also help super stretch a muscle, so that it stretches and contracts better and does not feel as tight or painful. Cupping also create more space over a compressed nerve in your arm or leg, which improves pain and healing time for the nerve.  It can also be used to bring awareness to an area of muscle that your brain is having trouble using correctly.

Below is an image of a shoulder muscle from an MRI machine showing what cupping does underneath the skin.  The first image is before using cupping, the second image is with the cup on, and the third image is the results of the decompressed muscle after the cup is removed.  Look how much looser that muscle looks!

When do we use it?

Cupping can be used to decrease pain, assist in healing an injury, or speed up recovery after a race or game.  The following list are some (but not all!) of the diagnosis and reasons we use cupping at our Kinetic Edge clinics:

  • Back pain/stiffness
  • Neck/upper trap stiffness
  • Frozen shoulder
  • IT band tightness
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Total knee replacement
  • ACL surgery
  • Tightness around scars
  • Tennis or golfers elbow
  • Recovery from race or game

We consider using cupping during a treatment when stretching and massage doesn’t help an area loosen up, or it tightens back up very quickly after the therapy session.  It takes between 5-15 minutes to do cupping during a therapy visit.  It isn’t painful, but can feel like a pretty strong pull, like someone is squeezing hard.  We adjust the pressure based on what we’re targeting, what part of the body the cup is on, and how strong our client can tolerate.  You can feel the results immediately afterwards, and it often feels better for days at a time!  It is very important to do a lot of stretching 24-48 hours afterwards to help the stretched muscles and tissue stay loose and not tighten back up.  People who are more sensitive to pressure can be sore for a few hours up to a day afterwards.  But most clients who have had cupping done love how loose they feel and are excited that they can do more activity with less pain immediately afterwards.

Our Kinetic Edge locations in Pella, Oskaloosa, Des Moines, and Ames have therapists who can perform cupping treatments.  Schedule an appointment talk to a therapist to see if this is something that can help you heal or recover better!