Cupping, also referred to as ‘Myofascial Cupping Therapy’, is a modality that uses plastic or glass cups that are placed on the skin and air is removed or sucked out. This lifts the skin and underlying myofascial (muscle and fascia) structures to stretch the muscle and connective tissue and promotes the movement of blood and healing.
Cupping Vs Traditional Chinese Medicine Cupping
Thanks to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) modalities such as Myofascial Cupping Therapy (MCT) and Dry Needling Therapy (DNT) are becoming widely adopted by Western medicine as practitioners from all backgrounds are seeing patient treatment benefits.
Both Cupping (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and Myofascial Cupping Therapy (Western) have similar outcome objectives, to increase blood and promote cellular metabolism for healing. This also decreases pain and releases muscle spasm and tension.
As Myotherapist’s and Remedial Massage Therapist’s we use MCT more specifically to help heal the musculoskeletal system and the myofascial complex. MCT is generally used in the treatment of chronic pain.
TCM cupping may be used to help heal a much broader range of diseases and symptoms. Therapists will use cupping to facilitate or increase “qi” or energy flow/quality throughout the body where there may be blockages.
What is the science behind Myofascial Cupping Therapy?
Thanks to the pioneering research of Dr Helene Langevin, former Osher Center Director, Boston, Massachusetts, USA and her Connective Tissues Lab’s studying the role of connective tissue in chronic musculoskeletal pain and the mechanisms of acupuncture, manual, and movement-based therapies, we are now have a better mechanistic conventional understanding for the use of alternative therapies such as cupping. They have identified that by manipulating connective tissue, specifically the fibroblast cells, (cells that attract inflammatory cells), the connective tissue changes shape. Her studies suggest that by stretching connective tissue it will change fibroblast cells and reduce inflammation thus chronic pain.
For more on Dr Langevin studies including the role of Fibroblasts and acupuncture studies click here.
In the video at the bottom of this article , Dr Langevin explaining the science and role of connective tissue and chronic pain.
In April 2019 the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine published, ‘The medical perspective of cupping therapy: Effects and mechanisms of action’. This research article looked at all English literature in Pub Med, Cochrane Library and Google Scholar to give us a better understanding of the mechanisms of action of CT from a modern medicine perspective. Their findings suggest many mechanisms may be contributing to pain reduction and changes in the skin by theories such as the, “Pain Gate Theory”, “Diffuse Noxious Inhibitory Controls” and “Reflex Zone Theory”. Changes to the deeper tissue structures and the increase in blood circulation may be explained by the “Nitric Oxide theory”. Immunological changes and releasing of toxins may be attributed to “Activation of immune system theory” and “Blood Detoxification Theory”. Their research concludes Although there is no single theory to explain the effects and mechanisms of cupping and further study is needed to fully understand CT, this study does suggest there are many physiological changes that happen as a result of CT that all have positive benefits on the health and soft tissue.
Is Myofascial Cupping Therapy dangerous?
MCT is very safe however in exceedingly rare cases the patient may experience dizziness, sweating or nausea. During MCT the patient may also experience slight pain, localised swelling, and bruising. The bruising may appear as circular red or purple marks on the skin which do disappear however depending on the constituents some bruises may fade in a few days and for others up to 2-3 weeks.
What do the red and purple marks mean?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine the different colour markings from cupping are very diagnostic. The purplish red marks indicate severe damp heat. Red cupping marks indicate severe heat. Bluish purple marks indicate severe cold dampness. The darker the colour will indicate exuberance of the pathogenic qi, a life force and the lighter the colour indicates mild pathogenic qi. No mark means the absence of pathogenic qi.
Western or Myofascial Cupping Therapy explain the reason for the discoloration and marks on the skin are a result of ecchymosis, caused by the bleeding of small broken blood capillaries. The amount of bruising will depend on the high/negative pressure. Tighter areas may require more suction thus more bleeding may occur.
What is the difference between Wet Cupping (Hijama) and Myofascial Cupping Therapy?
Wet cupping or Hijama is a different form of cupping where the skin is cut before the suction begins that encourages bleeding during the process. This ancient bloodletting technique utilised in the Middle East, China, and Europe.
Myotherapists and Remedial Massage Therapist are not trained in Hijama or wet cupping and do not offer this service.
Is Myofascial Cupping Therapy right for Me?
If you suffer from chronic muscle pain and tension, then the answer is yes! Cupping can help by reducing tension by stretching the underlying myofascial structures reducing your pain! Book now and give MCT a go!